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Each week, our own Zach Brooks speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Zach’s profile and contact him.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I’ve long been passionate about nutrition and the fight against childhood obesity. As a young girl, I was overweight, and I still remember the horror of being called an elephant by a second-grade classmate. No kid should ever have to feel like that! When my children entered school, I was shocked by all the junk food in the classroom. From birthdays to holiday parties to bake sales, they constantly were being loaded up with sugary treats and other unhealthy food. For my oldest child (now 7), it started in preschool with a field trip to McDonald’s at the age of 2. I couldn’t stand to just sit back and watch it happen — I had to fight back.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
I started my School Bites blog to raise awareness about the various issues involved in school food and provide other parents and educators with ideas and inspiration for improving the food environment in their own schools. I’m also working at the local level to make healthy changes. Last year, I helped start a wellness committee at my first grader’s elementary school. I recently joined a School Food Action Group made up of parents, grandparents and organic farmers committed to bringing edible gardens and farm-fresh pesticide-free produce to all our district schools. I have been volunteering for a non-profit organization called Nurture Your Family that is introducing food education classes to students in area schools. This fall, I hope to work with our school district to update and revamp our district wellness policy. In my spare time, I am a volunteer ambassador for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. Oh, and I am busy fixing real food for my family of five.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
Since starting my blog, I’ve had quite a few parents reach out to me for advice on everything from starting a wellness committee to talking to the school principal about food rewards. I’ve been in their shoes, feeling frustrated and up against a wall. I love trying to help. I’ve gotten some very nice feedback about how my blog is inspiring some people to speak up and fight for their kids’ health. That’s my whole goal in doing it! And if even one child is saved from a lifetime battle with food, our efforts will have paid off.
Who is your role model in your work?
I am in awe of David Katz, M.D. I admire his writing skills and pretty much hang on his every word. In terms of parent advocates, I really look up to Dana Woldow of PeachSF, Nancy Heuhnergarth of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance, Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray and Casey Legler Hinds of KYHealthyKids.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
Healthy snacks? Hmmm, I hate to say it, but I didn’t have the best diet growing up (which wasn’t the fault of my mom, an excellent cook). That’s part of why I’m so passionate about teaching kids how to eat. It took until my 20s to figure out what foods make me feel good and satisfied. I finally learned to love the foods that love me back! And now I want to help kids do the same.