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Teach Your Children Well


By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM

One student in San Jose wrote, "Ya no comemos comidas fritas" — We no longer eat fried food. Another: "Ahora salimos a caminar juntos en familia" — Now we walk together as a family.

Those are just some of the raves for the latest incarnation of the health-care literacy program developed by UCLA Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute (HCI) at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Similar sentiments are expressed by teachers and parents who also participate in the program.

The brainchild of UCLA Anderson lecturer and HCI research director Dr. Ariella Herman M.S. '78, the 10-year-old program trains Head Start personnel how to teach low-income parents to care for basic childhood illnesses. Many of these parents don't even know how to use a digital thermometer, let alone prepare a healthy dinner for their kids.

Since it began, the program has touched the lives of more than 40,000 families in dozens of states and has expanded to include training sessions at school. And it won the 2009 Health Literacy Award from the Institute for Health Advancement.

Healthy Habits

Find out more about the Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute at UCLA Anderson.

Post-project surveys show that the program develops greater nutritional understanding for both parents and children, dramatic changes in the body mass index (BMI) of participants, and changes in diet (more vegetables, whole milk to skim milk) and exercise (measured by pedometers the project supplied).

HCI's obesity project is ongoing. While traveling on behalf of HCI, Herman heard the concerns of Head Start staff regarding overweight children and decided to develop a program to address the issue. Aided by grants from UCLA in LA, Fidelity Investments and Johnson & Johnson, and participation from UCLA pediatrician Dr. Paul J. Chung and from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholars, the project evolved from a pilot in Pasadena to implementation in 10 states.

The HCI approach is to train Head Start staff, parents and children at the same time. With nutritionists, Herman and her team create low-literacy materials in multiple languages for use in the classroom and in the home. The resources include nutritional information, guidance on exercise and how to shop economically for healthy foods.

But what inspires the program's founder are the projects created by teachers and parents themselves, like a mini-farmer's market for kids and a parent-authored cookbook.

"You should see these kids, how they watch these things grow and how they learn," Herman says. "For these parents to suddenly hear that they have the power of making a difference in their children's lives is a very important element in the game."