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Fresh Food Fridays promotes healthy eating

by Elizabeth Fulmer
College of Dental Medicine
More than 200 vegetable wraps were snatched up by students at Julian Mitchell Elementary School Feb. 19 as part of MUSC’s Fresh Food Friday.
The event was part of a project of this year’s Presidential Scholars Program. Presidential Scholars explore complex social, political, and human issues of broad interest to health care professionals and involves faculty representatives and students from all colleges at MUSC. The Scholars Program theme for the year is “Healthcare Reform: Policy, Communication, and Ethics.”
Anatomy professor Dr. Thierry Bacro and Monique Huynh pass out wraps to Mitchell Elementary students Feb. 19.

Four interprofessional groups are focusing on one of the overarching goals for Healthy People 2020. The group I am participating in consists of three faculty members: Thierry Bacro, Ph.D. (physical therapist), Holly Wise, Ph.D. (physical therapist), and Nancy Zisk, J.D., of the Charleston School of Law. There also are 10 students from MUSC colleges: Monique Huynh (Health Professions), Sydney Cummings (Medicine), Mason Hicks (Health Professions), Rosanna Robertson (Graduate Studies), Katie Stroud (Dental Medicine), Alfred Griffin (Dental Medicine), Adam Sieg (Pharmacy), Heather Leisy (Medicine), J’Vonne Hunter (Nursing), and Trey Reeves (Pharmacy). 
Our theme is eliminating preventable disease, disability, injury, and premature death. To combat childhood obesity and future diseases associated with obesity, we organized Fresh Food Fridays at a Charleston elementary school to demonstrate a delicious, easy meal that incorporates seasonal fresh vegetables.
The first event was held as soon as children got out of school. We decided on a vegetable wrap that was full of healthy seasonal produce, including peppers, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli.  Zisk and Wise prepared the wraps. Within 20 minutes, all 200 wraps were completely gone.  The group handed out 110 recipes for the dish, including suggestions of how to tailor the recipe in different ways, such as making it into a soup and including other vegetables and lean meat.
College of Health Professions student Monique Huynh show the wraps that were prepared for Mitchell Elementary students.

Fresh Food Friday appeared to be a success. One 9-year-old exclaimed, “I think they look good!” A mother of two children said, “We love our vegetables,” but another said, “What?  No meat in them?” Of course, there were children throwing out the vegetable filling in the wrap and eating the tortilla, but the group is optimistic that children will eat more vegetables if they are given more opportunities.
Childhood obesity is a problem in today’s society, including in the Charleston County population. Obesity is associated with a multitude of diseases, including diabetes, coronary artery disease, and hypertension. The group sought to not only educate children and their caregivers on the importance of eating healthy, but also to give them a hands-on, visual experience to see and taste how healthy, fresh vegetables can be a part of their diets.
The group identified numerous barriers families may encounter that prevent them from eating fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Access to fresh produce is a problem for some downtown residents. Those who do not have use of an automobile to get to the few grocery stores near them are more likely to purchase convenient, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat items. Our plan is to contact local farmers’ markets and grocery stores to set up an on-site market at a school for parents, grandparents, and caregivers to have an opportunity to purchase produce on their daily routes.
Perhaps caregivers may not be familiar with cooking methods for seasonal produce. We sought to provide cooking demonstrations and recipe cards to hand out to help families become more familiar with healthy cooking methods. Because it was recognized that many students eat two of their three daily meals at school, the program aimed for our featured meal to be added to a school’s rotating lunch menu.
Walter Campbell, director of Nutrition and Food Services Department at Charleston County School District, served as a community liaison. He encouraged us to contact Julian Mitchell Elementary School in downtown Charleston as a site for the project because of its student population that relies on reduced-priced lunches, and its principal, Dirk Bedford, who is open to health education programs. Bedford was very welcoming to the group's proposed plan. Scotty Buff, M.D., director of the Junior Doctors of Health and former Presidential Scholar, was contacted for suggestions and improvements on the group's proposed plan.
Presidential Scholars would like to have another similar event to gather data to evaluate the success of the project. The group plans to evaluate students’ and families’ interest in incorporating more vegetables into their diets, as well as explore other appetizing ways of cooking vegetables that children will eat. Several students were unable to persuade local farmer’s markets and other vendors to sell their produce at the school, but they will continue to look into such possibilities.  The group is optimistic that one of its featured meals will be on a future rotating lunch menu for Julian Mitchell Elementary or possibly the Charleston County School District.

Friday, March 26, 2010

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