Students learn about nutrition and exercise with FoodPlay
Amid the back flips, hand stands and juggling, students at Mary Elizabeth Post Elementary School were taught how to eat healthy during a special presentation Friday morning.
FoodPlay Productions, an Emmy Award-winning nutrition theater show based in Massachusetts, gave students guidance on how to be healthy eaters and wise consumers through an action-packed comedy routine.
The program, which costs $30,000, was funded by an Arizona Nutrition Network Program grant received by the Yuma County Health Department.
It's worth every penny, said Lisa Medrow, a registered dietician who is the Community Nutrition Program coordinator with the Yuma County Health Department.
"With this fun program, we were able to reach 9,000 students," she said. "We would never be able to do that to this level of knowledge and entertainment with our staff."
In the last three weeks, "FoodPlay" was presented to elementary students and "This is Your Life" was performed for middle-school students. The following schools in Yuma County participated: Otondo, Rolle, Alice Byrne, Dateland, Harvest Preparatory, Gwyneth Ham, O.C. Johnson, Desert Mesa, Arizona Desert, Cesar Chavez, Palmcroft, Pecan Grove, Post, Rio Colorado, Desert View and Roosevelt.
With the show's Olympic theme, students watched as juggling coach, played by Adam Oliver, taught Little Johnny, played by Jason Westbrook, the importance of proper nutrition and exercise.
During the learning program, students watched while Johnny struggled as he chose between fruits and junk food, soda and milk and watching television vs. playing baseball.
"You need to get the right foods to stay strong and beautiful," Oliver said. "Because in America, not all foods are created equal."
The show started with Johnny skipping breakfast. This is a mistake many kids make, Oliver said.
"It's like driving a car without gas," Oliver told Westbrook. "Try an apple, cereal, yogurt or a doughnut. Something for breakfast is better than nothing."
The program is packed with tiny bites of information.
For example, Oliver and Westbrook measured the amount of sugar in a can of soda. There are more than 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke.
"So you need to drink milk," Oliver said. "Soda, every once in a while is OK, as long as you have enough of the good stuff."
As part of the program, which has been nationally recognized for changing behaviors, students were surveyed one week before the performance. They will be surveyed again in another week to see if they've altered any of their eating habits.
"Hopefully we can see a difference," Medrow said. "This program will help. It's so visual, the kids have got to remember it."
Obesity in children is a national problem reaching crisis proportions, Medrow said.
Today, one out of four children is overweight, one-quarter of the nation's children already show signs of high cholesterol, 50 percent are physically unfit and eating disorders are at an all-time high.
"It keeps getting worse," Medrow said. "We've got to do something to help these kids make better choices and be more aware of what they are putting in their mouths."
"Foodplay" and "This is Your Life" may be the one thing that reaches kids.
"It's great when you walk down the hall and you hear the kids saying how much sugar is in soda," Medrow said.
Using juggling, magic and audience participation, FoodPlay Productions tours elementary and middle schools. The production, which was founded by Barbara Storper in 1982, has reached more than 2 million school children.
Medrow was very pleased to bring the program to Yuma students.
"We are really lucky to have them," she said. "This is the furthest west they have ever been."
After the educational entertainment, teachers led activities back in the classroom about nutrition and exercise. Each school also was given an educational package for its library with videos and information about healthy habits.
Students were also given snack cards to post on their refrigerators at home. It reminds them about healthy choices as part of the "Count Them While You Eat Them" vegetable campaign.
Michelle Kann can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6855.