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Dr. Oz expands L.A. program to boost health, reduce obesity

Television physician Mehmet Oz smiles at cafeteria food while visiting a school assembly on healthy eating at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School earlier this month. Credit: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert

Roosevelt High School student Johana Soto said she never paid that much attention to what she ate, even though she often had potato chips and Gatorade.

But this year, Soto said she has become much more aware of her bad habits and is trying to change them.

She credits Erikka Moreno, 22, who is teaching her, her classmates and her teachers lessons about healthy eating and exercise.

Moreno is the school’s first Health Corps coordinator, part of a nationwide program designed to reduce obesity in schools and communities.

The host of the popular “Dr. Oz Show,” Mehmet Oz, created the program in New York in 2003. On Thursday, he announced its expansion to several more campuses in California during a visit to the Los Angeles office of the California Endowment.

Health Corps takes recent college graduates and assigns them to public high schools for two years to teach classes, hold health fairs and serve as mentors. There are now coordinators in 15 California schools, including four with funds by the private statewide health foundation.

Already this year, Moreno, who recently graduated from Stanford, said she has taught lessons on how to reduce portion sizes and on myths and misconceptions about eating, like believing skipping meals will help you lose weight.

“A little bit of knowledge can make a big difference,” she said. “For me to be able to empower them with the knowledge they can make changes is so inspiring to me.”

The program, modeled after the Peace Corps, is now in 12 states and Washington, D.C.  A recent study on Health Corps that was published in the Child Obesity Journal showed that the program helped reduce soda consumption and increase physical activity.

Oz said the coordinators are having an effect even beyond schools, as they push store owners to stock healthier foods, urge city leaders to open basketball courts, and encourage families to buy more fruits and vegetables.

“I can’t nor can anybody do it by ourselves, but we are part of the quilt,” he said.

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-- Anna Gorman

Photo: Television physician Mehmet Oz smiles at cafeteria food while visiting a school assembly on healthy eating at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School earlier this month. Credit: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert

 
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