Strong4Life plans to grow community gardens to help kids learn about nutrition

Strong4Life is a campaign brought to Columbus by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Live Healthy Columbus to address the issue of childhood obesity.

According to Strong4Life literature, the state of Georgia has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation, second only to Mississippi.

Dr. Joseph Zanga, chief of pediatrics at Columbus Regional and chair of Live Healthy Columbus, said that the problem of overweight and obese children in the community becomes more serious each day. While infants are supposed to double their weight by six months old, he recounts seeing two infants last week who had doubled their weight by the time they were two months old.

“We know that overweight and obese infants become overweight and obese older children and adults,” said Zanga. “Live Healthy Columbus, through Strong4Life and other programs, is working and will continue to work to improve the health and well-being of the people of this region.”

Ellie Brooks, program director for Strong4Life, said working with other organizations in the community that focus on improving the lives of children is what makes the Strong4Life initiative work. She wants to involve as many organizations as possible in order to reach as many kids in the community as possible.

“The goal really is to change the concept that we have about kids needing activity,” Brooks said, referring to the amount of time children spend on the computer, playing video games and watching TV. “We need to bring families together.”

One way the program is doing that is through community gardens. With the help of the city extension office, Georgia Organics, Seasonal Concepts and the Columbus Housing Authority, plots of land will be used to plant gardens. Children at the housing projects will be asked to help with the soil, planting and harvesting of the garden.

Brooks said that encouraging kids to be active and outside, combined with learning about the nutritious food growing in the garden, will be a “wonderful experience” for them.

“I think what we really see is the community coming together,” Brooks said. “Because who wouldn’t want to come together for kids?”

Strong4Life has also hosted cooking classes for kids, focusing on preparing healthy meals and snacks.

After leaving the class, Brooks said the kids wanted to take home the knowledge and skills they learned and prepare meals for their families.

Another way Strong4Life is involving the community is through training programs with pediatricians, day cares and elementary schools. The Boost program focuses on having fun, being active, drinking more water and reducing screen time, Brooks said.

Nadeem Khan’s school-age children, ages 11 and 9, were introduced to the Strong4Life and Boost programs at Britt David School.

“This program took my kids from being aware about healthy eating to motivated and disciplined adopters,” wrote Khan in an e-mail to the Ledger-Enquirer. “I see more excitement in them about outdoor activities and the sense of staying healthy.”

Two additional activities geared towards encouraging kids’ excitement about health and fitness are being planned for this summer; dates, times and details are still being confirmed.