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Group Helps US Children Learn About Healthy Foods



Our story begins at the John Burroughs Elementary School in Washington, DC. The school’s kindergarten students are staying late today -- an hour after classes normally end.

The boys and girls are not seeking help with reading skills or mathematics. They instead are tasting kale, a vegetable that many of them are eating for the first time.

Student Robert Smith says “it tastes good” as he eats the green leaves, with olive oil on them.

The school’s teachers are also learning about eating healthier. Dionne Hammiel says she has been encouraged to eat vegetables she never thought she would like.

“The kale, especially. It was like, ‘No thank you.’ So she said, ‘Try it this way.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I like it.’ So I went home and started making kale for myself.”

Ms. Hammiel says her students have learned healthy eating habits from the program. She hopes they will keep a healthy diet for the rest of their lives.

The program is taught by young people like Karen Davison. She is a member of FoodCorps. The non-profit group gets money from the Americorps national service program.

Since the beginning of the school year, Ms. Davison has spent each day in this Washington, DC classroom. She gives the kindergarteners vegetables that many of them have never tasted. She teaches them where their food comes from and how they can choose to eat healthier meals.

“They see a lot of packaged food. If they eat vegetables, it’s not necessarily fresh. It’s not necessarily whole, so being able to bring in fresh vegetables, leafy greens, interesting fruit, is really a great experience for these students.”

FoodCorps was launched five years ago. It sends more than 180 young Americans to 500 schools across the United States. The young people teach students about nutrition and how they can eat healthy foods both at school and at home.

FoodCorps also works with other groups to plant vegetable gardens in schools and bring healthier foods to stores -- especially stores in cities. Many small urban stores often sell only packaged foods.

Maddie Morales is a member of FoodCorps. She says the group’s work is especially important in the fight against childhood obesity – when a child has too much body fat. She notes that the child obesity rate in the United States is twice what it was 30 years ago.

“The repercussion of having an unhealthy population is absolutely unacceptable and really scary in some ways that it affects our national security. It affects our ability to be a productive country and it is imperative that we change the system.”

In January, President Barack Obama’s wife Michelle asked FoodCorps cofounder Debra Eschmeyer to lead the government’s “Let’s Move” program. The goal of the campaign is to reduce childhood obesity through healthy eating and exercise.

In a statement, Mrs. Obama said Ms. Eschmeyer has taught children about the importance of healthy eating for more than ten years. She said: “From classrooms and gardens to kitchens and farms, Deb has made learning about nutrition fun and accessible for kids across the country.”

Ms. Eschmeyer joined Mrs. Obama at the White House Kitchen Garden planting in April. At the event, Mrs. Obama also marked the fifth year since the beginning of the “Let’s Move” program.

Mrs. Obama and students from around the country planted spinach, radishes, bok choy, broccoli and lettuce. She urged people to plant their own vegetables and tell on social media five things they are doing to lead healthier lives.

“Let’s share our progress because we are going to come back and harvest in a few months. And I would love to see what other community gardens, schools, school gardens are doing out there to move forward on getting our kids to eat healthy.”

Mrs. Obama began “Let’s Move” in February, 2010. She said she was worried about increasing obesity levels among American children. As obesity levels increase, so do the risks of diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than one-third of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The number is even higher among African-American and Hispanic youth.

Mrs. Obama has worked to put healthier foods in schools and urged young people to exercise. And she has partnered with large companies like Nike, which makes athletic clothing and running shoes.

I’m Jim Tedder

VOA’s Aru Pande reported this story from The White House. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

encourage – v. to urge or persuade

packaged – adj. put in a box or container in order to sell it or send it somewhere

repercussions – n. effects; something usually bad or unpleasant that happens as a result of an action or statement (usually plural)

imperative – adj. very important

accessible – adj. able to be used or found

adolescent – n. a young person who is developing into an adult; a young person who is going through adolescence

Do children in your country eat healthy foods? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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