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Kids to Farmers’ Market Program Combats Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obese youths are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea.

Social and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem and being ostracized by peers also are worse with obesity. In addition, obese youths are more likely to be obese as adults, when they would be subject to the same health risks.

A Project to Instill a Healthy Lifestyle

Kids_4749-elmA healthy lifestyle, focusing on good eating and exercise, is the best strategy for obesity prevention. Communities, schools, and medical care providers can all influence these behaviors in children. To that end, on behalf of Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Jennifer Litchman, MA, special assistant to Perman and chief communications officer and vice president in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, assembled a UMB and University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) team to create the Kids to Farmers’ Market project, which focuses on improving the eating habits and physical activity of inner city schoolchildren on Baltimore’s Westside.

The team, assembled in 2012, has so far planned and executed two successful Kids to Farmers’ Market seasons. The program’s initial goals were to expose the children to local, sustainable foods, and to teach them about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. During the past year, the team offered more educational sessions in two local schools, with a focus on healthy eating and physical activity.

How the Program Works

A University bus brings a fourth or fifth grade class, along with teachers and chaperones, to the weekly farmers’ market in University Plaza. The Kids to Farmers’ Market team gives each student a backpack stuffed with healthy-eating information, seasonal fruit and vegetable recipes, and $10 of “farmers’ market bucks” that can be used to buy items. The children are divided into three groups: one group shops, one attends a chef’s cooking demonstration, and one goes to a nutrition class led by a registered dietitian or nutrition intern. The groups rotate until all students complete each activity. At the end of the session, the types of foods the students bought are documented, and each child receives a healthy lunch to take back to school.

Shopping at the Market

In the first year, the children were told to limit their market purchases to fruits and vegetables. The first question a student asked was, “Can I buy the pickles?” Since pickles are vegetables, the answer was “yes.” This year, the children were allowed to buy anything at the market, with the hope that after being educated about healthy eating, they would make more fruit and vegetable choices. There were too many temptations though, so next year the rules might need to be reconsidered.

The children chatted with the farmers, asking them about the locations of their farms and the types of crops they grow. The farmers often gave the students a piece of fruit to try, or reduced the prices of their produce. The children asked questions about odd-looking vegetables, and they talked about ways their families cook vegetables at home. While the students shopped, the UMB/UMMC team shared healthy cooking ideas.

The Chef’s Demo

KFM_4867-elmDanielle Clair, catering chef at CulinArt dining services, developed an interactive component of the Kids to Farmers’ Market program. By preparing a seasonal recipe and explaining each step, she taught the children cooking techniques while describing each ingredient as she went along. Recipes she prepared and offered for tasting included watermelon salad kabobs, cheesy spaghetti squash, and pumpkin dip with fresh apples.

One student was hesitant to taste the spaghetti squash, but after high-spirited cheering from his classmates, he ate some and said it was “pretty good.” Many of the children were excited to share the recipes with their families.

The Nutrition Class

UMMC dietetic interns and registered dietitians developed and presented the class this year, emphasizing the following: benefits of eating local and seasonal fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market, the need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors, and the importance of making the plate for every meal be half fruits and vegetables. Some of the questions asked by the children were: “Are any fruits and vegetables good for your eyes?” “How do fruits and vegetables help us play sports?” “What’s the difference between canned and fresh fruit and vegetables?”

This year, to supplement the healthy lifestyle messages of Kids to Farmers’ Market, team members went to the two schools and led nutrition education, physical fitness instruction, and herb and vegetable planting activities. The program also presented Foodplay, a school assembly program that showcased the benefits of healthy eating habits and active lifestyles through music, magic, and live theater.

The Kids to Farmers’ Market team is evaluating the program’s effectiveness before the farmer’s market reopens this spring. “Our hope is that this UMB/UMMC initiative will enable us to make a meaningful difference in the health of school children right here in our own neighborhood,” says Litchman.

UMB Members

The UMB team members are Litchman; Office of Communications and Public Affairs staff members Holly Baier, assistant director of special events, Saifa Bikim-Edeze, office manager, and Nancy Gordon, executive director of protocol and special events; Greer Huffman, community outreach coordinator, Office of the President; and Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, Office of Government and Community Affairs.

UMMC Members

The UMMC team members are Denise Choiniere, MS, RN, materials management director; Christine Dobmeier, RD, LDN, CSR, senior nutrition specialist; Justin Graves, RN, BSN, sustainability coordinator; LaVette Jackson, customer service program coordination; Ellen Loreck, MS, RD, LDN, director, clinical nutrition services; and Anne Williams, DNP, RN, senior manager, community empowerment and health education.

Ellen LoreckFor B'more, Global & Community Engagement, UMB NewsJanuary 28, 20140 comments
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A Healthy Halloween

On Oct. 29, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy was crawling with ghosts, ghouls, and other spectacular spooks as it welcomed more than 20 third and fourth grade students from George Washington Elementary School to its annual “Healthy Halloween” celebration.

Operation Diabetes

Hosted by the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists’ (APhA-ASP) Operation Diabetes, Healthy Halloween helps raise awareness about diabetes and measures that children and their parents and guardians can take to prevent this chronic disease.

“The children who participate in Healthy Halloween often already know a lot about diabetes,” says Stephanie Yager, a third-year student pharmacist at the School and co-chair of Operation Diabetes. “Many of them have family members who have been diagnosed with diabetes, and some even have relatives who have died as a result of complications associated with this serious illness. We take this opportunity to offer them more education as well as provide advice that they can use to help prevent them from developing this disease.”

Kappa Psi Haunted House

Although the health fair, which was organized by members of nearly a dozen student organizations and consisted of posters and activities related to diabetes education, nutrition, exercise, and general health, formed the largest part of the event, the haunted house staged by members of the School’s Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity stole the show. Located in the School’s objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) suite, it offered terrifying thrills and chills for all who dared to enter.

“The haunted house was so cool,” remarked one student. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Yager says that Healthy Halloween offers a great opportunity to “bring awareness and fun together,” and notes that this opportunity doesn’t end with the children.

Childhood Obesity

Operation Diabetes also strives to educate the chaperones who accompany the children during their visit to the School, as adults were invited to join in this scary good time with the children as they played games, including “Guess How Much Sugar is in Your Favorite Snack?”, and learned about the risks associated with energy drinks and how to tell the difference between medication and candy.

“The number of children affected by obesity continues to increase each year, which puts them at risk for developing a number of health-related problems, including diabetes,” says Yager. “It’s impractical to assume that children will always make the best decision about what they should and should not eat, which is why we believe that it’s important to raise awareness among parents and guardians about what their children are eating and provide suggestions for healthier alternatives.”

Careers in Pharmacy

To conclude the event, student pharmacists delivered a presentation about what they know best: careers in pharmacy. The children were introduced to the steps that they would need to follow to pursue a career in pharmacy as well as the wide range of opportunities available to them should they decide to enter this respected health care profession.

Club UMB

“I love being able to expose students from our partner schools in West Baltimore to events like Healthy Halloween,” says Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of community partnerships and strategic initiatives at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). “Club UMB, a free after-school mentoring and youth leadership program supported by the President’s Outreach Council, has participated in this activity since 2010, and I was thrilled that the School of Pharmacy extended an invitation to our fantastic partners at George Washington Elementary School to return this year. It was a real ‘treat’ to bring students back for Healthy Halloween.”

Pharmacy Student Organizations

Nearly one dozen student organizations contributed to this year’s Healthy Halloween, helping to make the event a great success for all who attended. Participating student organizations included:

  • Phi Lambda Sigma Leadership Society
  • Rho Chi Society, Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group
  • APhA-ASP’s Maryland Regional Operations
  • College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists
  • APhA-ASP’s Operation Self-Care
  • Students Promoting Awareness
  • APhA-ASP’s International Pharmaceutical Students Federation
  • A Bridge to Academic Excellence
Malissa CarrollEducation, For B'more, Global & Community EngagementNovember 1, 20130 comments
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Eating the Rainbow

“It tastes better than it looks,” said a Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School student, referring to spaghetti squash available at the University Farmers Market.

The student was one of many participating in the second annual Kids to the Farmers Market initiative, a program sponsored by the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

The 11-week program is designed to combat childhood obesity by educating local area school children about the importance of making healthy food choices.

Kids_4785-elm“From the very start of this program, we saw an eagerness in the participating school children to experience the seasonal fruits and vegetables available at the University Farmers Market,” says Heather Graham Phelps, MA, director of communications and marketing at UMB. “They tasted, touched, and examined many different types of produce that they’d before never encountered.”

More than a third of Baltimore neighborhoods don’t have ready access to healthy foods, leaving one in five residents to rely on high-fat, high-calorie meals from corner stores and carryout restaurants.

“When healthy food choices become important enough to our students, they and their families will no longer live with the idea of food deserts, but will instead seek out options by any means necessary,” says Grace Yador, principal at one of the participating schools, James McHenry Elementary/Middle School.

The University invites elementary and middle schools from its surrounding communities to participate in the program. This semester included James McHenry, George Washington Elementary School, and Calvin Rodwell.

Starting on Tuesdays in September, students are bussed to the University Farmers Market to engage in nutrition workshops and healthy cooking demonstrations. The students are given UM-funded vouchers to enable them to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from the vendors.

This year, CulinArt, the caterer at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center, sponsored the healthy cooking demonstrations. On Oct. 1, Chef Dani Clair showed the students how to cook with spaghetti squash.

“Children are our future,” says Kat Palermo from CulinArt. “We want to promote healthy choices at a young age to keep kids healthy.”

Mindy Athas, RD, CSO, nutrition educator and certified oncology specialist at UMMC, educated students on nutrition with three key messages.

  1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  2. Eat the rainbow (a variety of colors) to ensure the maximum intake of nutrients
  3. Purchase fresh, local, and seasonal produce at the farmers market

Kids_4872-elm“By teaching the kids healthy habits, we hope they will share these habits with their parents,” says Athas.

One of the suggestions Athas made to the kids was to substitute some of their favorite dishes with vegetables such as mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

The program also provided the students with handouts on making a healthy plate (, what produce is in season in Maryland and when, and recipes for kale chips and spaghetti squash.

In October, staff from UMB and UMMC will visit the same schools to educate students about the importance of gardening, nutrition, healthy eating habits, and physical fitness. Students then return to the farmers market in November.

“It’s a very well-rounded experience,” says Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of community partnerships and strategic initiatives in the Office of Government and Community Affairs.

“We are hopeful our program will leave a lasting positive impression on these children as they consider the food and healthier lifestyle choices in their young lives,” says Graham Phelps.

For more photos (by Michelle Baffuto), click here. For a first-person account, click here.

Tracy GnadingerCollaboration, For B'more, Global & Community EngagementOctober 3, 20130 comments
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