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True or false: High school students in Sacramento are actively and enthusiastically involved in changing the way they and their families think about, shop for, and consume food?
And if this surprises you, you should have a chat with some of the teens involved in what could really be thought of as “living laboratories” of Hiram Johnson, Sacramento Charter, and Luther Burbank Senior High Schools.
No doubt they are not the only adolescents interested in engaging in a healthier lifestyle, but they are the first local students to participate in a movement, co-founded by well-known celebrity heart surgeon and television host, Dr. Mehmet Oz, known as HealthCorps.
The idea took root in 2001, after Dr. Oz performed a heart bypass on a 21-year old woman. When he returned to the young woman’s room, he found the family celebrating the success of her surgery with a mountain of fast food burgers and fries! He was dumbstruck at the lack of awareness, knowing that what he had just given her was likely only a temporary fix. He realized that to make a permanent difference, intervention would have to begin much earlier. There were already programs designed for younger age groups, so, despite some skepticism from colleagues, Dr. Oz chose teenagers as his focus for affecting change.
Unable to convince anyone to finance a program based on changing the mindsets of teenagers, Dr. Oz reached into his own pocket for seed money. He modeled HealthCorps after the Peace Corps, recruiting college graduates to commit to a term of (paid) community service before continuing on to med school. In 2003, a New York high school was the first to put HealthCorps into action. There are now 53 schools around the country, with a goal of 100. The program now consistently recruits their coordinators from top universities, putting them through a comprehensive training program, before determining which school they feel is the most appropriate demographic fit.
True or false: Making a lifestyle change—eating, exercise, giving up smoking—is often easier with a support system?
You may have answered false, but there are a lot of executives at smoking cessation programs and certain weight loss organizations betting their ad budgets against you.
True or false: You have at some point heard a teenager express the desire to have something, do something, see something, be something, think something, because a friend is doing it?
See the correlation?
Teens are more likely to become invested in things their friends are doing, and things they have had a hand in developing. They are also more likely than adults to turn information into action. With that in mind, HealthCorps allows them to participate in planning and execution of projects, to experience anything from meditation or creating a community garden to Teen Battle Chef or “How to Make a Healthy Breakfast in 30 Seconds.” It also arms them with information to become teachers in their own homes, effectively turning the tables, and giving them a sense of empowerment. Empowerment is at the heart of Heathcorps. Unhealthy eating, after all, isn’t just about food.
The ultimate goal is to give every young person the opportunity to grow in three key areas: mental resilience, nutrition, and physical activity.
Although No Child Left Behind effectively stripped many school curricula of PE and health education in elementary schools, California is currently leading the country in school wellness programming, according to HealthCorps National Education Director, Dr. Shawn Hayes. HealthCorps, too, has strong backing, and a growing presence in California: of the 53 schools—or “living laboratories,” as Hayes likes to think of them—15 are located in California. The organization recently opened a second home office here, and at the end of the month will hold a fundraising gala to further raise awareness, as well as to honor and acknowledge the tremendous support they have received in Sacramento.
The event, “Journey to Oz,” will be held at the Memorial Auditorium on April 30 from 6:00-9:00pm, and will be co-hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, and his wife, Lisa. Oz, and is Co-chaired by Dennis Balint, CEO of the California Walnut Board and culinary specialists Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney. Guests will visit various tables hosted by HealthCorps students and coordinators, as well as a combination of 30 local private and non-profit organizations invited by HealthCorps President, Michele Bouchard, who wanted to acknowledge them as part of the cooperative wellness community in Sacramento. At each table, guests will educate, inspire or give an action item to each of their visitors, maintaining the core philosophy of the program. Guest speakers are Montel Williams and Dr. Dean Ornish along with entertainment by Tony Award Winner Ben Vereen and an original dance number by Stepp Stewart performed with Sacramento’s Step 1 Dance & Fitness. The night will end with dancing to The Dick Bright Orchestra where guests can cut a little rug with their hosts. The idea is to make the evening informative, but engaging, smart but not stuffy—like Dr. Oz. Like HealthCorps.
Purchase tickets for “Journey to Oz” and find more information about the HealthCorps program, including local activities at www.healthcorps.org and look for the event page “Journey to Oz” on Facebook.
Special thanks to HealthCorps Shawn Hayes, Ph.D., who contributed the background for this story.