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Trafficking in Healthy Habits



Wendy Cooper has got the green light for healthy choices — and now she even has an award for her efforts.

The longtime educator and Leader is the creator of the Healthy Highway program, which teaches children proper nutrition and exercise habits through the use of easy-to-understand traffic metaphors. For her efforts to help hundreds of elementary school kids learn how to make healthy choices from a young age, Cooper recently was given the 2012 Amazing People Award from the New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

“There is no better compliment than to watch schools implement my program and create their own activities... and then I get to be the lucky one to watch the students take an active part in making healthy daily choices,” Cooper tells the Inside Track via email. “To be recognized by my state association was quite an honor.”

The curriculum-based program uses traffic metaphors such as “Go for healthy choices” and “STOP the spread of germs” to teach children healthy habits. Now in its sixth year, the program is taught in several New York elementary schools and nonprofit after school programs.

Cooper came up with Healthy Highway during her last five years of teaching, each year including new ideas and activities. Eventually, she worked to expand the program as part of a larger effort to play a role in reducing childhood obesity — with the goal that all students could to learn how to make healthy choices.

“I watched my students embrace the ‘traffic-themed’ concepts and found they took great care of their ‘engines,’” Cooper says. “Because of the success I was seeing, I knew I wanted to share this with other teachers and families and if I could help encourage healthy choices with even one child, it was worth it.”

Those classrooms that take part in the program receive the Healthy Highway Classroom Kit, which includes a number of tools and assignments to teach students healthy lessons.

For example, Food Cards help kids learn how often they should eat certain foods — “green light” foods are for everyday, “yellow light” urge kids to slow down and think about their choices, while “red light” teach kids to stop and think before they eat. The cards are based on the number of grams of fat in each food.

Six traffic posters, meanwhile, teach kids a nutrition slogan to follow, such as “Stop for Healthy Snacks.” Two dozen mini-traffic signs can be used for several fun activities tied to the curriculum, such as bingo or memory.

The Amazing People award isn’t the only honor Healthy Highway has received. In March, celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s Yum-O organization recognized the program as part of its “How Cool is This?” feature, which “showcases people and organizations who are making an effort to improve the way people eat.”

Cooper is now expanding her Healthy Highway efforts, starting a “Pledge Revolution” which asks a school or organization to commit to the pledge, “I promise to make ONE healthy choice EVERY day.” When schools or groups take the pledge, students become more aware of their choices, begin talking about healthy choices and ultimately begin to make them, Cooper says.

Cooper’s own goal is to have a school or organization from every state take the pledge, which she will display on a map on the Healthy Highway website. Thus far, her home state of New York and Illinois are represented.

Click here to connect with Wendy Cooper.