Promoting Healthy Lifestyles with the Help of the Medical Reserve Corps

Group Of Children Running In ParkBy Alyson Jordan, Communications Specialist, NACCHO,  and Lisa Lee, School Health Project Coordinator, Monmouth County (NJ) Health Department

How can you take your community’s talents and use them to make children healthy and active? Monmouth County, NJ, found a way by engaging a variety of health and educational professionals to pilot a “School Health Council” project called, “Action for Fitness in Monmouth County.” In 2010, Monmouth County piloted a School Health Council to promote healthy eating and exercise among schoolchildren and educate students and families about nutrition and fitness. The School Health Council was comprised of local health officials, a school administrator, school nurses, teachers, parents and members of the local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) unit, the Monmouth County Health Department MRC.

The MRC is a national network of over 200,000 volunteers organized into almost 1,000 local units across the country. While many volunteers have a medical background, a significant number of volunteers are non-medical people who are interested in making their communities a better place by educating residents on how to be prepared for a disaster or sharing healthy lifestyle information. MRC units participate in activities based on the needs of their communities; in this instance, five volunteers were happy to share their medical expertise in the implementation of the School Health Council project.

In 2010, the School Health Council project pilot launched at Farmingdale Public School in Farmingdale, NJ, with the goal of increasing fitness, improving nutrition education and decreasing students’ body mass indexes (BMIs). To do so, the School Health Council implemented strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote healthy lifestyles in children and parents. These strategies, which could be implemented in any community, included the following:

  • Adopting health policies for school parties and celebrations;
  • Planting an edible garden at the school where students can garden and eat the vegetables grown;
  • Measuring students’ activity levels by giving each a pedometer; and
  • Developing in-class and after school fitness activities; and instituting healthy cooking classes

MRC volunteers helped to support these activities in a variety of ways. One MRC volunteer, a chef by profession, hosted a demonstration to teach families how to make healthy and kid-friendly snacks. Other MRC volunteers provided expertise and gave feedback as medical professionals during School Health Council meetings. Non-medical volunteers walked weekly with groups of students to school and coordinated a Family Fitness Olympics.

This post originally ran on the Together Counts blog. Learn more at blog.togethercounts.com.

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