Students taught how to make fitness fun

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Students at McDonogh 35 in New Orleans participated in a health fair Thursday, December 6, 2012  organized by students and HealthCorps. The students took part in exercises and learned about nutrition. Mark Banks, 15, and Alphonse Waples, 14, do jumping jacks to earn a bowl of yogurt parfait.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Students at McDonogh 35 in New Orleans participated in a health fair Thursday, December 6, 2012 organized by students and HealthCorps. The students took part in exercises and learned about nutrition. Mark Banks, 15, and Alphonse Waples, 14, do jumping jacks to earn a bowl of yogurt parfait.

NEW ORLEANS — Students at John McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School partnered with HealthCorps to hold an all-day health fair in their gymnasium on Thursday, hosting booths with health lessons from “The Truth about Poop” to “Yuk or Yum” taste tests.

At the “Hydration Station,” students matched sugar amounts with a selection of beverages, including sports drinks, soft drinks and juice. Sophomore Tyreous Sykes said that most people think sports drinks are the healthy option and consume them in greater quantities, when they are in fact loaded with sugar. Logan Dawson, a ninth-grade student, said that he has started looking at nutrition labels on drinks for sugar amounts, and that he drinks more water and green tea as alternatives.

Travonda Favorite, who organized the fair, said that her goal isn’t trying to tell kids what not to eat but rather making small steps in creating awareness about the decisions they make, such as looking at nutrition labels.

Favorite works for HealthCorps and teaches 10 classes a week at McDonogh 35 on nutrition, physical fitness and mental resilience. In her “mental resilience” lessons, she teaches kids about the connections between eating and exercise and how they feel on a daily basis, whether it’s getting enough sleep or dealing with stress.

The Dr. Mehmet Oz-sponsored effort is in 66 schools nationally, with a presence in two New Orleans schools, Favorite said. Covington-based bottled water company Evamor is the primary sponsor of the New Orleans programs.

Favorite said she’s found that kids are willing to try new things, and in her second year at McDonogh 35, she sees success in helping students make better choices using the resources they have. In terms of fitness, she said, you have to make it fun.

The fair’s featured fitness guests were Herman and Sherman Smith, known as the “Subway twins” as pre-Jared spokesmen for the company. The West Bank natives travelled all over the country spreading their message before deciding to get more involved on a local level.

At the “poop” booth, senior Breial Kennedy very matter-of-factly described the different types of clay models used as demonstration on the table. She called it “the first warning sign that your diet is not right.” Students were asked to match the diet discrepancies with the various types of output, some having too much fiber or lacking fiber, or the “déjà poop,” featuring corn and other undigested food. The “perfect poop” signifies a balanced diet, Kennedy said.

At another booth, students demonstrated how good fats, like olive oil, travel through the system more smoothly than bad fats, like salted, sweetened butter. Senior Oschelle James said that there aren’t a lot of good choices for healthy eating in the neighborhood, but at home she cooks with olive oil and eats wheat bread.

One of the lessons from Favorite’s class that stuck with her the most was learning how long she’d have to exercise to burn the calories in a donut, James said.

At the next booth, students built their own parfaits with yogurt, granola and fresh berries.

Dr. Marc Bonis, an assistant professor at the University of New Orleans’ Human Performance and Health Promotion program, said that creating awareness and changing attitudes is the critical first step in changing physical fitness and nutrition habits. Author of “A Fat Old Man’s Guide to Health and Fitness,’’ Bonis said that eating any type of food is fine by him — but it’s the amount and frequency that make it a health issue.

Once eating healthy and exercise is seen as “cool” and a desired choice, the next barriers are finding facilities for physical activity and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Both are significant challenges for young people in New Orleans, he said.

Bonis said that events like the students’ health fair are good first steps in creating awareness and changing attitudes.

Herman Smith said he recently had a wake-up call when he saw that his 13-year-old son was significantly overweight.

Over the last summer, he worked with his son every day, and in about four or five months, his son had lost 60 pounds.

“He’s a totally different person,” Smith said, of his son who now plays football, plays in the band,and has made new friends.

The biggest thing Sherman Smith said they try to impart to young people is to “Get up, get out and get active,” and “Whatever you do, don’t quit.”