Monday, November 19, 2007

HealthCorps Front and Center

In yesterday's NY Post there's a feature story on Dr. Mehmet Oz and the HealthCorps program that he founded over three years ago. As the story points out: "His fat-fighting program, already in 33 city schools around the five boroughs, acts like the Peace Corps, putting recent college grads into schools to help kids learn about good nutrition, stress management and weight control. "We got $2 million from the City Council last year for this program. [Schools Chancellor] Joel Klein is a major supporter," he says."

The design of the HealthCorps, jump-started with the support of City Councilman Joel Rivera, is to activate young people to become health advocates in their own neighborhoods-with a core belief that real change needs to come from the ground up, and not from the top down. Mandates and edicts from officialdom aren't effective; young people pushing their peers, families and communities can be so much more transformative.

Upcoming for the HealthCorps are two innovative outreach programs that will imvolve students, schools and communities. The first is the "Healthy Bodega" program that was started by the NYC DOH. HC will be working with the Department on increasing the access to low fat milk and fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods where obesity is most prevalent.

Initially, the program's focus has been to try to promote the inventorying of these products in the city's bodegas. Now, however, as of the first of the year, NYS WIC is providing eligible consumers with vouchers for all of these items so the health bodega focus is going to be on developing an educational partnership between the stores and communities in order to promote healthier eating. There is no incompatibility between healthy communities and a healthy economic climate in the neighborhood.

HealthCorps will also be working with the DOE on the development of a pilot program for a school classroom breakfast. As we have said before, classroom breakfast is important for educational achievement as well as health; and the city's participation rate needs to be radically improved. HC will not only be working in the schools, it will also be working with neighborhood health organizations to create grass roots support for the pilot effort.

The HealthCorps is just starting to generate a health awareness in the city's schools and communities. The key to future success will be grounded on the program's ability to inspire young people to change-while continuing to generate the support from key elected officials such as Joel Rivera. As the program expands, it is necessary for others to pick up on Rivera's enthusiasm and provide the resources neede to make the HC even more effective.