By our friends at Alliance for a Healthier Generation
If you’ve turned on the TV or browsed ads in a magazine lately, it would be easy to assume that today’s teens exist solely on salty snack foods, sugary drinks and processed sweets wrapped in brightly-colored packages.
Seventeen-year-old James Hoover and the other members of Mission Possible are living proof that that’s not the case. Not only are these teens steering clear of unhealthy snack foods, they’re actively working to make them less available in their schools and communities.
James is one of the founding members of the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s youth council, recently named Mission Possible by six teens who also created a tagline and a logo to promote their work. “The health department saw a huge need for youth engagement around food access here in the county,” said Youth Engagement Coordinator Danielle Gillard, who oversees Mission Possible’s work. “When youth speak for themselves and are able to articulate what they want to change, adults really listen.”
Mission Possible: The Quest for Healthy Vending
For the last two years, in addition to his academic workload and several extracurricular activities, James meets with Danielle and Mission Possible every other Thursday evening to plan their upcoming advocacy events and educational workshops.
Mission Possible initially brainstormed a list of more than a dozen obesity-related challenges that they wanted to tackle in the community. They knew they needed to narrow their focus to be effective, so when they learned that the district intended to revamp its policy for foods sold outside of the school meals program, they saw an opportunity to truly have a seat at the table.
After more than a year of advocating for healthy changes and educating anyone who would listen about the importance of healthy eating at school, James received some welcome news in February. “My high school removed our unhealthy vending machines! The empty space will soon be the home of something that will offer healthy options to over 2,500 students,” he said. Even better: “I've been asked by the school administration to support this transition by helping them find a new vendor to work with.”
The Next Frontier: Concession Stand Snacks and High School Graduation
Now James is conducting research on healthier options, such as popcorn, and is developing recommendations that comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in Schools standards, which he will present to the school health advisory committee later this year. He’s thrilled to be creating change at his high school, but doesn’t plan to stop there.
“I’ve seen huge growth in the way James takes on responsibility and in his self-efficacy,” said Danielle. A few weeks ago, he walked up to a representative from a local grocery chain and started a conversation with her about donating healthier foods for concession stands during sporting events. Mission Possible is seeking to expand their progress to the rest of the 160-schools in the district. It’s a big task, but James is confident they can get the ball rolling before he prepares for his next challenge: graduating high school.