Pediatric residents bring a nutrition-education program to Elmsford students.
By Melissa F. Pheterson
Spinning a “Wheel of Fortune” for peppers, berries or kiwi isn’t typical health education among sixth-graders. But pediatricians in the Residency Program at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), melded nutrition education and fun with My C.H.O.I.C.E., a six-week healthy-eating curriculum for students at Alice E. Grady Elementary School in Elmsford during the 2017-18 school year.
The program, whose acronym stands for “Choosing Healthy Options in Childhood Experience,” began when residents Joanne Fernandez-Booker, MD, MPH; Mai Nitta, MD; Dina Finkel, MD; and Aditi Kamat, MD; sought a project that would support health beyond the walls of the hospital.
“I wanted to create an initiative that would allow residents to get to know our own community better,” said Dr. Nitta.
The residents, physicians receiving specialized training at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, identified neighborhoods with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity in Westchester County, including the Elmsford Union Free School District, where 23.6 percent of students were obese.* They also found that the national obesity rate for Hispanic elementary school students was 25 percent – the highest of all racial groups.**
“With the majority of the Alice E. Grady Elementary School population comprising students of Hispanic descent, we confirmed this was a community of need,” Dr. Fernandez-Booker says.
WMCHealth’s Performing Provider System (PPS) and its Center for Regional Healthcare Innovation, part of New York State’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP), lent expertise and resources to the program. Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital supporter ShopRite Supermarkets, Inc., a sponsor of fresh fruits and vegetables, educated students and their families about its on-site nutritionists, and complimentary nutrition services, such as one-on-one consultations, supermarket tours and kids’ and adult-cooking classes.
“Given that ShopRite cares deeply about helping people eat well and be happy, this partnership was a natural fit,” says Sarada Bernstein, Manager of Community Affairs and Public Relations at ShopRite. “It only further strengthens our relationship with Westchester Medical Center and Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.”
With topics such as nutrition labels, exercise and federal MyPlate guidelines, each session featured interactive activities such as a seasonal fruit or vegetable of the week, donated by ShopRite for students to sample and take home. The residents discussed culturally familiar foods, including tortillas and flan, but also healthier food choices, like mushrooms, radishes, kiwi and tofu, some of which students might have tasted for the first time.
Douglas Doller, principal of Alice E. Grady Elementary School, credits the doctors with “crafting a hands-on program, made strong and powerful by partnering with ShopRite. To see the kids spin the wheel and get excited about not getting a cookie was amazing.”
“It was reassuring and heartwarming when a student told me: ‘I told my mother she needed to buy more vegetables,’ or ‘I told my mother that this cereal isn’t a healthy option, so she shouldn’t buy it,’” says Dr. Fernandez-Booker.
“To me, it was invigorating to see the students at school,” Dr. Nitta says. “Connecting with kids in the classroom made me realize that as a pediatrician, my role is not just about prescribing medications or taking care of patients when they’re sick. It’s about helping families make informed healthy decisions in their everyday lives.”