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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Center for Global Health Promotes the Importance of Good Nutrition and Recycling

By Irv Harrell

Food deserts littered with fast-food restaurants and convenience stores put many communities at risk of poor health. These populations often struggle with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Understanding healthy options are critical to stemming the tide of poor nutritional choices.

Old Dominion University's Center for Global Health has spent the past three years addressing good nutrition as well as teaching the importance of recycling through its Global Health Heroes program. It has been gaining traction in several communities by building partnerships, providing internships for ODU students and educating children at early ages.

This year, the center not only continued the program but expanded its reach and impact. The center traditionally targets third- fourth- and fifth-graders in summer school programs. This summer, it partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Virginia. The event was hosted by John F. Kennedy Middle School in Suffolk and drew more than 30 students. It was the third such program conducted by the center this summer, which in total attracted nearly 100 students, said Michele Kekeh, research coordinator for the Center for Global Health.

The center's team also consists of Dr. Muge Akpinar-Elci, director; MyNgoc Nguyen, the center's program manager; and Jamie Edmonds, the center's administrative assistant. Interns provide valuable assistance during program planning and implementation.

"We visit with site coordinators, look at the site, and determine what we need to ensure proper flow," Kekeh said. "Our interns then help design the appropriate program materials and take the lead in implementing them."

A typical program consists of brief introductions, a pre-test, video presentation, nutrition exercise, recycling exercise, post-test, postcards, certificates of appreciation and healthy refreshments. The tests ask questions about things such as recycling tendencies, nutrition and hygiene. The pre- and post-test strategy is designed to measure how much information students retain over the course of the program. A follow-up will be conducted six months after the first implementation to gauge the program's effectiveness and how well students are applying what they learned.

"The program was implemented in the past for two hours, but that wasn't enough time," Kekeh said. "Now it runs four hours, which gives us time to help the students fill out their tests and still spend quality time to engage them during the gaming and reinforce their learning. We hope that students will retain, practice and transmit their newfound knowledge to others."

In 2016, Global Health Heroes was launched through a collaboration between the Center for Global Health and the Horizons Hampton Roads, which provides summer enrichment programs for low-income children. The first program was held that summer at Chesapeake Bay Academy in Virginia Beach. Global health encompasses nutrition, global awareness, health responsibility, physical fitness, hygiene and more. The goal of the program was to teach students how being a responsible global citizen can affect health outcomes in and out of their immediate communities. By adopting healthy behaviors, they are considered heroes.

The second program was held in July 2017 at Portsmouth Catholic Regional School with about 30 participants.

While the partnership with the Boys and Girls Club has increased the program's reach, there are many more opportunities to be explored, Kekeh said.

"Our future goals are marketing and expanding the program on a national, even international scale," she said. "We could partner with organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

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