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Getting Healthy Through Hip-Hop, Leadership and Education


What do hip-hop, social marketing and healthy eating have in common? The Healthy You. Positive Energy. (HYPE) campaign. HYPE is a youth wellness initiative started by The Food Trust in Philadelphia that empowers middle and high school students to become leaders for healthy changes in their schools and communities.

HYPE supports youth councils in approximately 100 middle and high schools, all working to get improve their schools access to healthy foods, decrease the availability of unhealthy foods, and increase opportunities for physical activity. The initiative brings together hip-hop, rap, dance, social marketing and citywide events to instill positive changes and wellness in schools and communities.

The HYPE program is a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Get Healthy Philly initiative. In Philadelphia, 40 percent of school-aged children are overweight or obese. A combination of issues plague Philadelphia’s children, including a lack of healthy eating options, and not enough opportunities for physical activity.

Participating schools have wellness councils composed of middle school to high school age students who form a HYPE council overseen by an advisor (a school staff member) and together, they decide on wellness activities for their school. The youth councils assess their school food and fitness environments in order to design and implement healthy action plans. HYPE councils have led healthy initiatives, such as launching fitness clubs, movement breaks and planting school gardens.

At an annual leadership summit, HYPE brings students together from across Philadelphia to connect with peers, develop leadership skills, and gain enthusiasm and new ideas to bring back to their schools.  

“Students are able to create action plans, [and] see what other HYPE schools are doing regarding wellness. The students have the freedom to choose any wellness topic they see fitting for their schools—healthy snacks, breakfast, more fruits and vegetables, drinking water instead of sugary beverages, increasing physical activity, or tobacco prevention,” said Paulette Keo, a HYPE Youth Leadership Coordinator.

After attending HYPE’s leadership summit, 94 percent of students reported feeling “excited about making healthy changes in their school and their community,” and 97 percent reported they felt “proud to be healthy.”

“Students have felt that their voices matter and are able to influence behavior change among their peers. The projects that they choose help to build their project planning skills, business skills, and overall leadership skills,” said Paulette. “Two students, who have become public speakers for HYPE from Mifflin Elementary, can't wait for their next opportunity to speak in front of students, teachers, even program funders.”

Paulette said one of the biggest challenges of the HYPE program is to help keep up the momentum of engagement throughout the year. Some HYPE councils are very active and hold weekly or monthly events, while some schools start off the school year well but then taper off. HYPE’s coordinators hope to overcome this challenge by continuing to support the youth councils and maintain a steady level of engagement throughout the year.

Gina Spinelli, a HYPE advisor at Mifflin Elementary, has noticed the positive impact the program has had on students. "The HYPE movement has brought awareness to the school community as a whole to help us learn and understand the importance of making healthy decisions,” she said.

“Putting our plan in action has had such a positive impact on every one. Drinking more water was a big focus for our healthy youth council this year. It was awesome to see the amount of staff and students who get excited to show me their water when they get to school,” said Gina.

For more information visit HYPE’s website: