The Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. (Healthy Eating and Living in Schools) program has reached an exciting milestone just in time for its 5th anniversary. 7, 290 New York City children participated in the program over the past year. Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. is located at Harlem Hospital Center, serving all 5 boroughs of NYC and targeting underserved communities. To date, our teamhas reached over 40,000 NYC children, in more than 115 schools and 50 summer camps,since its inception in 2009. The program supports the Affordable Care Act recommendations regarding school nutrition education and early interventions to reduce childhood obesity. Significantly, Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S.is one of the few programs nationwide that includes a curriculum directly supporting the goals of Menu Board Legislation.
The program, championed by Columbia University neurologist Dr. Olajide Williams, incorporates hip hop music and animation into an engaging multimedia health curriculum designed to encourage children to make healthier food choices and maintain regular physical activity.
H.E.A.L.S. Program Manager Vanessa Sawyer explains that the program is administered as part of a school curriculum and designed to: 1) teach 8 – 11 year old children dietary decision making strategies and chain restaurant menu board reading skills that will increase the selection of foods that are lower in calories, and/or are more nutrient-dense; 2) teach and motivate children to teach their parents these skills and; 3) change children’s attitudes toward food selection in order to maintain behavior changes over time. Program methods include use of interactive computer video games, animated cartoons and hip hop songs, designed to “prime” eating behaviors of children by making healthy eating culturally relevant or “cool” and to influence parents’ behavior.
Additionally, the program highlights an insightful yet simple method children can use to make healthy food choices. Foods that are nutrient dense and provide the most nutritional benefit are GO foods; children are advised to select these foods anytime. These types of foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk, yogurt and lean meats. Foods such as white bread, pasta, and cheese that are higher in calories are considered SLOW foods. Children are taught to pick these foods only sometimes. Foods that are very high in calories and unhealthy fats such as fried foods, cookies, and cake are considered WHOA foods and should be selected only occasionally.
Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. is a “health education party” that uses some of today’s hottest music to get kids moving while teaching them about healthy behaviors. In creating the program 5 years ago, Dr. Williams, a.k.a. the “Hip Hop MD,” enlisted the musical skills of rappers Easy A.D., a former member of The Cold Crush Brothers; Doug E. Fresh, the “human beat box;” Artie Green, a multi-platinum music producer, and many others to spread his hip hop health message. Easy A.D. and Artie Green co-teach the program in schools and camps throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC.