As the NY Daily News reports this morning, "Zoning out fast food restaurants isn't the only way to foster healthier eating habits among city youngsters." The other "hearts and minds" approach is the innovative Health Corps initiative that was founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz and is being expanded by Councilman Joel Rivera into three new high schools this fall.
The Health Corps is designed to generate a health activism in the high schools that, if properly activated, will generate greater awareness of healthy living among the friends, families, and in the communities of the Health Corps members. The HC in each school is led by a post grad pre-med volunteer who will organize nutrition workshops, exercise activities and diet awareness programs for the students.
The three schools targeted in the fall will have the HC funded by a city-state grant of $250,000. It is anticipated that the program, which is being monitored for effectiveness by private funding, will be able to further expand at the beginning of the 2007 school year. Quite a few council members have expressed an interest in having HC come to high schools in their districts.
So, for all of the withering criticism that Rivera has received for his "McZoning" proposal, it is clear that the councilman has some substantive plans to go after the change in attitudes that all of his critics say is preferable to zoning out fast-food outlets. It may, however, not be as much of a zero-sum game as many of these critics would like us to believe.
It is time for the fast food folks to become stakeholders in the campaign for healthy eating. If they don't they will find themselves in the same position as Phillip Morris-paying out billions to tell people just how bad smoking really is.
Update: Here are article from El Diario and the Amsterdam News on Councilman Rivera's zoning proposal