Yale partners with New Haven youth to promote healthy choices among peers

In conjunction with its current “Big Food” exhibition, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History will host a presentation about a project that taps into the talents of New Haven’s youth in a bid to tackle the problems of obesity and related chronic disease. The event, the first in a series of curator’s events related to the “Big Food” exhibition, will take place Thursday, Sept. 13, 5:30-7 p.m. at the Yale Peabody Museum, 170 Whitney Ave.

Titled “Big Food, Engaging Youth,” the presentation will showcase innovative films and youth narratives exploring what real-life health challenges mean to young people. It is free and open to the public.

The “Big Food” exhibition was designed to disseminate critical knowledge about food, health, and obesity, and to inspire individuals to make healthier food choices. Since opening in February 2012 it has broken records for attendance and has been hailed for its deep affect on visitors.

The Community Alliance for Research & Engagement (CARE) at the Yale School of Public Health joined with Magalis Martinez, founder and director of a new media arts company called “The Color of Words,” and students from the Engineering & Science University Interdistrict Magnet School in New Haven to promote healthier food choices among area youth.

Following a visit to the exhibition this spring, the New Haven students have been working to create public service announcements to promote nutrition, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors. The films will be shown in school cafeterias, physical education classes and libraries for students, teachers, and parents. To create more interest in their work, the students have been documenting their thoughts and feelings about unhealthy food and sedentary lifestyles on http://www.facebook.com/LiveOutLoud2015.

At the Sept. 13 presentation, the students will discuss their experiences creating these films.

“We have a strong partnership with the New Haven public school system, and we want this important effort to include local youth. I am delighted to welcome our student colleagues back to the Peabody to hear their ideas about how we can improve health,” said Jeannette Ickovics, director of CARE, professor at Yale School of Public Health, and lead curator of “Big Food: Health, Culture and the Evolution of Eating.” With its partners in the New Haven School System, CARE brings together local organizations and individuals to understand and provide solutions to health challenges in New Haven. CARE’s research engages middle school students, conducting annual health surveys and physical assessments, looking at such factors as blood pressure, body mass index, and waist circumference.

Preliminary evidence indicates that healthier students are over twice as likely to achieve academic goals and that conditions inside schools also greatly influence students’ health and achievement. CARE is investing in school cafeteria “learning labs” to enrich this environment through the newest menu board technology and media displays, and has partnered with Magalis Martinez, who teaches digital media arts at the Engineering Science University Magnet School, and her students, to conceive and produce content that gets people talking.

“To develop videos and messages that resonate with youth, we need to be in their mindset – and the best way to do that is to bring young people into the process,” said Martinez, adding that the project had set a unique path by establishing an equitable partnership with New Haven youth. “They know today’s media landscape, and we need to move there with them.”