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EmblemHealth Student Tour Emphasizes Healthful Habits
By Juliann Schaeffer

New York health insurance and wellness company EmblemHealth recently offered seventh-grade students from the Future Leaders Institute Charter School in Harlem, New York, a real-world education on what healthful habits look and feel like.

Staff members took 38 middle school students on a two-hour tour at EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care, which was created to “help kick away the obstacles that may prevent New Yorkers from taking care of their health,” says Christa Hill, community liaison for EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care, noting that it’s an atypical approach to health care that seeks to maximize local resources to help get residents living healthier.

As part of the tour, students visited the Harlem EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care location, where they participated in various activities that showcased the benefits of a healthful lifestyle.

Students partook in an interactive discussion with EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care representatives about why healthful eating is so important, using flat-screen computers to research the topic. “Students learned the benefits of a balanced diet and were encouraged to adopt healthier eating habits,” says Karen Wauchope, RN, BSN, CDE, clinical program manager at EmblemHealth. Light, nutritious snacks with naturally flavored water made with real fruit were provided.

Staff also demonstrated how to measure BMI, hoping to emphasize for students “the importance of accountability in adopting a healthier lifestyle,” Wauchope says. “Students learned how an ideal weight varies for each person and how it’s determined by height and other factors.”

In an attempt to highlight the benefits of a more active lifestyle, a certified Zumba instructor was on hand to get students moving with some dance-fitness cardio. “Students also had the chance to play in the Xbox Kinect fitness area,” Wauchope says, noting that all of these activities are free to the entire community “and show how exercise can be both fun and rewarding.”

As the tour ended, students were offered a Greenmarket nutrition guide to give them concrete information they can use to help make healthful decisions about seasonal produce. “The Greenmarket nutrition guide equipped students with the nutrition facts and benefits of seasonal produce so they can make informed shopping decisions at their local farmers’ market,” Hill says.

To further kids’ education about the benefits of eating locally grown produce, “EmblemHealth has partnered with GrowNYC to sponsor student tours of its Greenmarkets and provide New Yorkers with health and nutrition resources at select GrowNYC Greenmarkets throughout New York City,” Hill says, through which “residents can purchase farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, view cooking demonstrations, partake in free nutrition workshops for all ages, and receive complimentary health screenings.” 

According to Future Leaders Institute Charter School seventh-grade teacher Jennifer E. Nelson,
the tour was well received by students, especially the Zumba lesson. “I think the Zumba class was the highlight of the tour,” she says. “Even those students who don't usually want to get involved tried the routine for at least a few minutes. It had us all laughing, sweating, and dancing—a great and rare experience.”

Whether this tour will have any lasting effect on students’ choices is unknown, but Nelson says she has seen some indicators from students that they may make changes toward (or at least express an interest in) more healthful eating and exercise habits. “One of my students is a vegetarian by choice, and after the tour, she asked me about what kinds of fruits and vegetables I like to eat,” she says. “Also, many of my students make reference to how they try to make good choices despite the choices their peers may make around them.”

By teaching young students about the implications of poor eating and lack of exercise early in life, Wauchope says EmblemHealth hopes to help decrease the number of adults affected by disease. “Good nutrition and a healthful lifestyle are the best ways to be healthy and fight obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure,” she says. “If you develop healthful eating habits and [fit] fitness into a daily routine early in life, you’re much more likely to be a healthy adult. We provide young people the tools needed to make informed health care decisions.”

Juliann Schaeffer is a freelance writer and editor based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a frequent contributor to Today’s Dietitian.