Before Beyonce moved her body to get kids active, registered dietitian Michelle Ricker
used rap music to teach kids about healthy habits.
Beats about beets? Rhymes about lunch time? We’ll jam.
A nearly 20-year nutrition veteran, Ricker runs the consulting firm New and You
, which has taken her to schools around the globe to teach students about health basics. But forget typical nutrition charts and dull lectures; Ricker thinks creatively when it comes to teaching her students about good nutrition and the importance of physical activity.
Ricker used rap and hip-hop as a teaching technique for youngsters in Portland, Ore., engaging them by coming up with sweet rhymes that also drive home lessons taken directly from U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines. Last summer, she traveled to Seattle to be a nutrition expert for the Let’s Move Apps for Healthy Kids competition, which saw groups of gamers competing to design the best software tool or game to teach kids to eat better and be physically active.
Ricker even traveled halfway around the world to Jerusalem, where she worked on a project with OPENmotion Environments, a group that created “movement oriented environments that encourage active use and participation by children.” In her role, Ricker helped a group of art and design graduate students work with elementary-aged kids to create playground structures out of organic materials, such as branches.
“They went and got the branches at this dump in Israel, and they brought them back to the school,” Ricker recalls. “It was this real nice integrated system, and the kids got to move and enjoy and understand that they can make something out of nothing.”
Ricker didn’t begin her career expecting to launch a rap career or turn sticks into organic playgrounds. Rather, she began in the field of kidney dialysis. (She still works on dialysis issues by assisting with the development of new technology designed to help dialysis patients who suffer from malnutrition.)
But Ricker found herself driven to work on prevention and began working with kids. She became a lecturer, appearing at forums nationwide to talk about good health. She founded New and You to help schools, businesses and other organizations tackle childhood obesity in a variety of creative ways, including through the use of technology.
“In order to make change, and change the way we’re going to have to change our lives, it really starts with kids,” Ricker tells The Inside Track. “I really feel like it’s just something that inherently drives me. I know whenever I work with kids directly, it just brings this huge happiness for me. Seeing that light click for them, it’s really big.”
Part of Ricker’s mission is to reshape the messaging that reaches kids. Advertisers target them with unhealthy products, and kids think those are the products they need.
“We’re giving kids conflicting messages, like, ‘In order to be super cool, you have to eat this sugary cereal,’” Ricker says. “Well, not really.”
Ricker thinks that progress can be made by taking small steps to improve children’s health, including through better nutrition in schools, increased activity and better messaging, so kids learn from an early age what’s healthy and what’s not.
“Obviously, it’s a process. I do feel like the awareness, especially that [First Lady] Michelle Obama has brought in, it’s fabulous,” Ricker says. “I feel like right now, there’s so much momentum.”