Students sifted through organs, some healthy, but most damaged from ailments like heart disease, cancer, or cirrhosis.
At North Bergen High School’s HealthCorps fair on Jan. 27, students donned gloves and were able to pick up livers, hearts, and other organs donated by the morgue at Columbia University Hospital to see firsthand what can happen to a person who leads an unhealthy life.
“It gives students the opportunity to see what you’re really doing to your body,” said Adrian Tuttle, a school-based HealthCorps coordinator.
The HealthCorps Program was founded nationally by Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiac surgeon, best-selling author and health expert routinely featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. HealthCorps functions similarly to the Peace Corps, often sending recent college graduates to schools with the goal of educating students on the obesity crisis.
In each school, students can form their own HealthCorps to encourage healthier eating and living among their peers and family members.
Tuttle served as the high school’s coordinator last year and is now working at a school in Brooklyn. This year, Claire Mancheta has been organizing an after-school HealthCorps club, as well as speaking in health and science classes about health living and nutrition. The fair was largely organized by her club’s members.
Mancheta said she had noticed some changes in students.
“Several students will tell me, ‘My mom finally decided to buy brown rice’ or ‘I got my mom to start walking with me,’ ” said Mancheta.
From 1980 to 2004, statistics on overweight and obese children have more than tripled nationally.
Student Jaritza Maury said that viewing the grayish body parts was a rude awakening.
“It makes me think how messed up my organs could get,” said Maury.
Obesity in children
Before students visited the many booths promoting boxing, yoga, and healthy living, New Jersey State Director of the Office of Nutrition and Fitness Peri Nearson spoke about the alarming obesity statistics in children.
She said that from 1980 to 2004, statistics on overweight and obese children have more than tripled nationally.
“Even more troubling, data from 2006 indicates that New Jersey has the highest reported amount of obesity in the nation [among low income children ages 2 to 5],” said Nearson. “We are number one in an area where we don’t want to be number one, so these are very alarming statistics.”
Nearson told students that her newly developed state office received a $5 million grant from the Center of National Disease Control and planned to focus the funds in increasing healthy eating and lifestyles. She said one of their main focus groups were schools because “local efforts really make a difference.”
Giving students options
North Bergen’s P.A.L. boxing was present to give demonstrations of the sport to students. Dominic Paradise, who graduated from the high school 27 years ago, said that it was important for children to be “health conscious.” He said he wanted to “build” boxing back up.
“It’s given me the smarts to not be stupid enough to go around starting fights with everybody, because that’s how I started, but eventually I learned from it, I matured and I decided to stay with the boxing team,” said Chris Veras, 18, who demonstrated different punches with Paradise for onlookers.
Veras thought that the health fair was a great way to promote healthy living, as did his team mates Ashley McGhee and Esteban Payero. Payero gained confidence, while McGhee, also a member of the HealthCorp club, loves the sport because it keeps her active.
“The attempt is to show people another way to stay healthy,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco. “What we accomplish here is important for these children for the rest of their lives.”
Co-owner of the Rabbit Hole Bakeshop Hannah Craft had a booth at the event and explained how foods promoted as being made from “organic” ingredients aren’t always organic.
“I don’t think they understand how much the food industry is just trying to them to buy stuff because teenagers are such an easy market, because they’re on their parents’ money and they just want stuff to taste good,” said Craft.
Craft said that she wants to convince teens that “they don’t have to do it all at once.” She said shopping at farmer’s markets in the spring was one example of eating better.
At a student-run table, cups of sugar showed how sweet certain beverages really were.
“[People] drink [Gatorade] like it’s a regular drink,” said Maha Zamel. “They don’t realize how much sugar is really in it.”