"I promise to make one healthy choice every day to keep my engine strong."
Those are the words of the Healthy Highway pledge, which every student says when they participate in the program. The Healthy Highway program was developed by PreventObesity.net Leader Wendy Cooper, a physical education specialist, to help children embrace healthy living concepts into their daily lives. The program aims to empower children and families to make healthy choices through the use of educationally sound concepts by using fun imaginative traffic metaphors.
“I was a physical education specialist for 30 years,” Cooper said. “Over the last five years of my teaching I developed the safety part of my curriculum based on traffic signs. Each sign has a safety slogan. For example: a traffic light meant ‘stop, look and listen’; a yield sign was ‘watch out for others, slow down and pass carefully.’ My students became ‘cars’ and had to drive carefully in the gym.”
Cooper says the transition to incorporate nutrition education was simple. The road signs took on nutrition concepts, for instance, a yield sign means to watch out for oils, slow down on fats and pass by sugar. Just like car engines need gasoline for fuel, our bodies need fuel in the form of various food groups, and the metaphors help children embrace the need to make healthier choices and maintain a high-performance body.
“This was our first year on the Healthy Highway, and my son was very excited to help pack his lunch since he knew that for every green light food he had, he earned a point for school. He did not want a red light food,” shared Nicole, whose son is in kindergarten.
Recently, the Healthy Highways program received the local Chamber of Commerce Community Health Award. The Award recognizes a local business dedicated to improving the health and enriching the lives of the youth in the community.
This year the program also partnered with the local police department and turned Healthy Highways into a school-wide pilot program. Three officers were ‘trained’ in the program’s concepts and then participated in monthly visits to the school. They talked to the students about the healthy choices they made and why, challenged the school to make 500 healthy choices in one week (a lofty goal!), and handed out badge stickers at the end of the year.
The greatest challenge, Cooper says, is finding enough time to talk with administrators and educators about the ease of implementation of the program.
Students have embraced the program, and have used their imaginations to expand on the nutrition concepts in creative ways. Some schools have started their own gardens, a second grade class has student ‘chefs’ that serve healthy snacks to their classmates, and one class has written rap songs. Cooper also recalled a fifth grade class that created comic strips based on the Healthy Highways concepts.
“The best part is to watch the excitement on the faces of the children I meet when they tell me about their healthy choices, and the pride in their voices as they tell me they love being on the Highway,” Cooper said.
For more information on Healthy Highways, click here.