Club founder and president Hema Pingali '13 started the Healthy Makes You Happy club last year. She wanted to do something at Randolph that would make a difference and would last after she graduated.
After seeing First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” video, she appreciated the message and wanted to help spread the word that it is easy for everyone to make changes toward a healthier life and in particular to fight childhood obesity. She was struck by a statistic in a CNN report, which stated that obesity is now the greatest health burden in the US and that more money is spent on health issues related to obesity than for infectious diseases.
Hema has always wanted to be a doctor and save lives. The more she read about obesity and the studies around it she thought that encouraging healthy choices in her own community would be a good place to start.
“At first,” she said, “we wanted to go around the country with this message but we decided to be more realistic and try to have an impact here at Randolph, starting with the children in our Lower School aftercare program.” Every other Thursday, last year, the club gave presentations at aftercare. “We did skits about watching TV and eating Pop Tarts, about healthy and unhealthy situations.”
This year, the Youth Leadership Club, of which Hema is vice-president, is responsible for coordinating the student connections and community learning through the School’s educational partnership with Village of Promise. Each Upper School club has been asked to develop "One Thing" to connect with Village of Promise. The club went to the Second Mile Preschool and gave a presentation to the students there about healthy choices.
But their main focus this year is to have an impact in the Upper School. Working with Dr. Chui Chan, Hema has developed the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge, which was launched on February 13. The challenge encourages people to make three main changes to their lifestyle. People will self-report points for food choices and activities.
“It’s really easy to give advice,” Hema said, “but it’s also really hard for people to implement changes.” In addition, she said, we already know a lot. “We are good at getting exercise and we know what healthy food is, but we still make unhealthy choices.” As she has been learning to develop communication skills, she said it’s important to go slowly and not try to scare people with statistics.
“Apples are awesome,” she added, but it’s not about finding a miracle fix. “There should be moderation in anything.”
Hema believes that the biggest health threats facing our community are processed foods, too much sugar, unhealthy snacks and eating out too often.
The three lifestyle changes the club recommends making are not extreme, but they are significant.
1) Drink lots of water. This flushes out salts and other toxins. Carry a refillable water bottle with you.
2) Go outside for half an hour during the day. Studies show this improves happiness and fitness.
3) Try not to eat out more than once a week. If you eat at home, she said, there will be less salt, oil, preservatives and additives in the food your parents make you.
Asked who she thought would be more successful in making changes, the students or the teachers, Hema said she thought it would be easier for the students as adults were more set in their routines, but she hopes that everyone will try. She is also glad that the club seems set to continue after she graduates and if the Club’s challenge succeeds in its mission she will have created an invaluable legacy indeed.
Hema does not yet know where she will attend college, but she has been offered a full four-year merit scholarship to the University of Alabama after coming second place in the state physics tournament with a perfect score of 100%. Hema is also active with the School’s academic teams—Science Bowl, Scholars Bowl and Science Olympiad. She tutors non-English-speaking students at the Boys & Girls Club. Hema is taking five AP courses and an independent research project in biology with Dr. Chan.
The club held their first Challenge meeting last Wednesday during break and the entire room was packed with students and teachers excited to join the competition. The participants will be expected to track their eating habits, exercise and hours of sleep. Each night, before sleep, they will need to log on to Google Docs and enter the food and exercise they have partaken in on that day as well as what time they are going to bed. Points will be awarded for healthy habits, Hema explained. For example, 10 points will be given for a serving of protein, three points for a serving of fat. All of the participants will be working towards a goal that they decide on at the beginning of the challenge. They will also be required to engage in a pre- and post-test, during which their body mass index, height, weight and fitness level will be measured. The pre-tests will be taken throughout next week.
“We're trying to emphasize an encouraging and supportive atmosphere in which everyone who signs up and participates in the challenge can feel good that they're getting healthy,” explained Hema. “I'm really excited for others to learn about the challenge as well as promoting healthy habits in general!”