Cal Poly Pre-Med Students Bring Nutrition Education to SLO County Kids
Author: Public Health Department
3/20/2019 4:29:53 PM
The aspiring doctors bring fun, active lessons about healthy eating and physical activity to after-school programs across SLO County. Their work is part of a unique collaboration with the Public Health Department’s community wellness program.
“I am Emily, and this is Julia. We are learning how to be doctors. Do any of you think you might want to be a doctor when you grow up?”
A few hands raise.
“We go to Cal Poly. Do any of you want to go to Cal Poly?”
Hands fly up. They have the kids’ attention, and off they go!
Emily and Julia are pre-med students in the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). It’s a community of physicians in training, including medical students and pre-med students, focused on the goal of creating change surrounding the issues they care about in health care.
The Cal Poly AMSA students connected with the Public Health Department’s community wellness program in 2017 with the goal of bringing lessons on nutrition and physical activity to children in underserved local communities, and have been collaborating ever since. As educational outreach volunteers, the pre-med students travel to elementary schools each week to lead fun, engaging lessons. The Public Health Department provides training, materials, and ongoing support for the student leaders.
“As an aspiring pediatrician, working with kids means a lot to me,” said Emily Morejon, a pre-med student and volunteer. “Along with having fun and playing games, the kids show a genuine interest in the lessons we teach them. Without fail, our older groups seem to always get into a heated discussion about the distinction between a fruit and a vegetable. One of my favorite things about working with kids is seeing this transition from simply accepting what they have been told to beginning to ask questions about the world around them, and being a part of that process is very rewarding."
The classroom lessons and outdoor activities get students moving and reinforce nutrition concepts in an entertaining way.
"I’ve always loved teaching students, but what is unique about this program is we get to go out into the community and help students realize that they have control in leading a healthy lifestyle,” said pre-med student volunteer Julia Kallet. “By far one of the most rewarding parts is seeing the curiosity these students have about everything. Question after question, knowing the students enjoy learning about important parts of their everyday life is incredibly gratifying."
Why do fun lessons about physical activity and nutrition matter so much? Across California, more than 55 percent of adults have diabetes or prediabetes. In SLO County, more than half of deaths are caused by cancer, heart disease or stroke. Children who learn about eating well and getting active early in life are better equipped to live healthy lives and avoid these diseases. Even better: the lessons tend to stick when they’re fun, like the games and activities the Cal Poly students lead.
“We love that these future doctors understand and value the power of prevention,” said Jen Miller, Program Manager for Community Wellness with the Public Health Department. “We have a small team of health educators, and collaborating with the Cal Poly AMSA students means we’re able to reach many more schools and organizations than we’d be able to otherwise. It’s great for the students to find a supportive network of like-minded professionals committed to improving health in their community. And it’s great for the kids—they really look up to the Cal Poly students. They’re having a blast and they’re getting a healthier start in life.”