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In Combating Obesity, a 12-Year-Old Leads by Example

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

The number of overweight children in the U.S. is growing. That is the reason the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation created the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Over the past 10 years, the Alliance has been coming up with creative ways to fight childhood obesity. One of these ways is inviting young people to be part of the solution.

Twelve-year-old Jodi Evans has always been active. She loves to exercise and play sports ... including dancing.

"Dancing is a sport. Not everybody thinks it's a sport just because it's just … not in the Olympics. But it's something that keeps your heart rate going. It's something that requires a lot of energy. It’s something that requires eating healthy to have energy."

Jodi is on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Youth Advisory Board. The Alliance chose her for her healthy lifestyle and her involvement in sports.

"We have a group of young people, everything from an 8-year-old to 17-years-old all across the country. Jodi joined the Board when she was only eight. She was one of our youngest members at the time."

Megan McIntire is spokeswoman for the Alliance. She says the young people in the Alliance are sharing their viewpoint, or perspective, on how to fight childhood obesity.

"They all are raising their voice on this issue, and giving their perspective on how to combat childhood obesity. And on top of that they're making a difference in their own communities. They're running Local 5-K events or they’re talking to their school board about changing out school food in the cafeterias. Or they’re planning a school garden or they're talking to their state legislature about new policies they can pass. So, they are having tremendous impact all across the country on issues they care about and they choose how they really want to make an impact."

"Do you eat potatoes?!"

And, more importantly, the young Alliance members talk about making healthier food choices with their friends. Ms. McIntire says this is very important. Talking with friends will help to change the current shocking obesity numbers. Again, here is Ms. McIntire.

"One in three children (is) overweight or obese. Some research out there suggests that this could be the first generation that doesn't outlive their parents. So it's an epidemic. We're seeing some signs of the trends flattening. But there still is extremely high prevalence of obesity in specific populations, so African American and Hispanics are disproportionally impacted by obesity issue."

Creating healthier school environments

The goal of the Alliance is to empower children to create healthier environments for themselves. Ms. McIntire says they are doing this by increasing physical activity throughout and after the school day. The young Alliance members are also bringing healthier food choices to where students eat and buy food – in the school cafeterias, vending machines and bake sales.

Clara Zonis, front, and Kelsey Hiscock select food items from the lunch line of the cafeteria at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Clara Zonis, front, and Kelsey Hiscock select food items from the lunch line of the cafeteria at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

"Our largest program is in the schools. We have a Healthy Schools Program. We're in 29,000 schools across the country. We're really changing the culture of what happens in that school environment – so, everything from are they having physical activities throughout the day, access to recess and physical education, what's served in the vending machines, what our kids are eating at school cafeterias, what are the fund raisers like, what are the bake sales like after school , can they healthy bake sales … "

June Evans is Jodi’s mom. She says serving on the Youth Advisory Board has helped her daughter learn about the issue of obesity. It has also helped her to develop important leadership skills.

"If she sees, you know, friends that are struggling in one area where they are not eating healthy or they're complaining about their body, or they’re complaining about their weight, she will step in and she’ll do it in a positive, quiet way."

Jodi's has a gentle, friendly approach. This makes it easy for Melissa Jackson and her other friends to listen to what she has to say.

"She told me that our body is a temple and we should take care of that temple by eating right, taking care of our body, exercising properly, not overdoing it too much."

Jodi’s term on the board ends this year. But she says she will always stay active. She also plans to continue to spread the message of staying active and eating healthy among her friends in school, in her neighborhood and everywhere.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Share you opinions about this story in the comments section.

Faiza Elmasry wrote this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

perspective – n. the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

combat – v. to struggle against;

5-K – n. a long-distance road running competition over a distance of five kilometers or 3.1069 miles.

cafeteria – n. a place (such as a restaurant or a room in a school) where people get food at a counter and carry it to a table for eating

epidemic – n. a sudden quickly spreading occurrence of something harmful or unwanted

prevalence – n. the fact or condition of being common or widespread

vending machine – n. a machine that you put money into in order to buy food, drinks, etc.

bake sale – n. an event in which people try to earn money by selling baked foods (such as cookies and pies)

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