Teaching kids how eating healthy can shape their future careers
One of the greatest challenges that the Lodi, California, community faces today are the high percentages of obesity and Type 2 diabetes—which can be reversed with proper lifestyle changes. Wayne Craig, president and CEO of the Lodi Memorial foundation, says that San Joaquin County has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the state—particularly the Heritage District, where the number of residents classified as obese or diabetic are twice as high as other Lodi districts. Wayne and his team also wanted to find a way to address another issue facing the community (and the nation): Shortages in qualified applicants for health-related careers.
Along with Daniel Walcott, president of Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, and Jill Borth, nurse manager for care management, Wayne and team set out to create a program that would help make positive, healthy changes in the Heritage District community and teach kids how to prepare for their future careers. They partnered with the Lodi Unified School District and the G.O.T. Kids Foundation and were awarded a $50,000 grant for a Fit Life Impact Program (FLIP).
FLIP kicks off in February and will take place in four schools within Lodi’s Heritage District, twice per week during the Spring and Fall school terms. About 400 students in 4th and 5th grades will participate. The program will feature nutritional education, kid-friendly cooking classes and fun fitness activities taught by professional fitness coaches. The goal is to get the families involved, too. “We want to bend the obesity curve. It’s so important to get the whole family on board, because it’s hard for kids to go home and eat healthy foods if their parents aren’t buying healthy foods,” says Wayne.
Beyond educating the kids on healthy lifestyles, another goal of FLIP is to expose the kids to the kinds of career opportunities they can have if they stay in school. “A powerful fact is that people who don’t graduate high school tend to live 19 years less than those who received their diploma,” says Wayne. He explains that the reason behind this is that without a high school education, people tend to be limited in their career choices—leading to a more stressful life, delayed healthcare and limited options for purchasing healthy foods.
And according to Wayne, there’s a high number of healthcare positions at hospitals like Adventist Health Lodi Memorial that remain unfilled because of the lack of qualified applicants. Jill adds that a huge part of this program is that it will connect the dots for kids between healthy lifestyles and career goals.
“If you want to be a fireman, for instance, you have to be fit enough to carry X number of pounds up stairs and down stairs. If you want to be a policeman, you must meet certain health standards,” says Jill. “And in the healthcare industry you can be on your feet for 12 hours a day, pushing gurneys and helping move people around. Hopefully this will motivate the kids to make healthy choices so they can achieve their goals.”
FLIP will have visiting speakers, from healthcare professionals to paramedics and firemen. The kids will also take field trips to the hospital, where they’ll get a “behind the scenes” glimpse of healthcare careers in action.
Wayne and Jill hope the success of this program will grow beyond the Heritage District and become county-wide, teaching kids and families across the region how to make healthier lifestyle choices and let them know they have bright career paths ahead of them. “A lot of times these kids don’t have the perspective that they can be whatever they want to be. We want to change that,” says Wayne.