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Going Hollywood for Health


The word “Hollywood” conjures up images of the stars on the Walk of Fame. But students at nearby Hollywood High School are working to become stars of a different kind – at healthy living.

A group of students celebrated those efforts by setting out on a hilly hike up to one of their community’s most prominent spots – the famed Hollywood sign. The “Sheik-a-thon,” as the event was dubbed in honor of the school’s mascot, raised funds for an array of wellness programs that are making Hollywood High a model for its school district.

A $175,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente under the Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program is funding efforts to reduce obesity and improve health among the Hollywood High School student body and in the surrounding community.

The historic high school “serves a primarily underserved community” in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), according to Deborah Ebrahemi of the L.A. Trust for Children’s Health, who manages the Kaiser HEAL grant. “It’s considered a health hot spot” when measuring for diabetes rates, high BMIs, exposure to violence, and teen reproductive rates, she says.

The school is home to one of the LAUSD’s school wellness centers, with care provided by Kaiser and LAUSD pediatricians. There are now 14 of these centers throughout the district, with more planned to open over the next three years. Hollywood High’s wellness center currently is only open to students but in the next school year, will be open to everyone in the community – students, their families and neighbors.

“Our work is moving forward really fast,” Ebrahemi says. The wellness center has “everything that you could want in a clinic,” with a pediatrician on staff and resources for patients of all ages, including infants and toddlers. “They now are seeing a lot of students and we’re just trying to get more exposure for the clinics.”

In addition to the wellness center, initiatives under way at Hollywood High include everything from adding extra equipment and staff in the students’ weight room so kids can work out during their lunch hour, to nutrition and exercise classes and tours of the school cafeteria for their parents. 

Organizers are working to improve the offerings at the school “snack shack,” add salad and yogurt bars to the cafeteria and expand the school garden to better integrate it into the classroom setting. Student-athletes are being encouraged to lead the efforts, “being role models to their peers and getting students moving,” Ebrahemi says.

A wellness council, whose members will include students, teachers, parents and others, is being developed so everyone in the community can offer input. Students in two healthy living clubs at the school are being trained this summer as peer educators, so they can spread the word about nutrition and exercise throughout the community all year long.

The L.A. Trust for Children’s Health launched 20 years ago as a subsidiary to LAUSD to support the district’s efforts to promote healthy living for its students. As student health, in particular obesity and the risks that go along with it, has become a top priority, the Trust is now focused on "working to improve the health of the children of the Los Angeles Unifed School District,” Ebrahemi says.

The goal is to take the model being developed at Hollywood High and apply it to schools throughout Los Angeles. “We’re calling it the shining star for the school district,” Ebrahimi says.

Donna Brutkoski authored this report.