Program aims to link nutrition, child wellness
SAN ANTONIO — The essence of pediatrics is prevention. As a pediatrician, I am intimately familiar with the use of vaccines to prevent diseases such as polio, measles, mumps and rubella. This approach has yielded great dividends, protecting millions of children worldwide from the devastating effects of these diseases. What if we could do the same for other chronic medical problems such as high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity?
I think we can. Not with vaccines but with our food and how we eat it.
I have spent a significant part of my career as a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist worrying and wondering about the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes and how our children and grandchildren are going to fare as adults when they are challenged by these health issues so early in their lives.
Many children and young adults I have treated could have benefited from a “nutritional intervention” — the connection our profession is beginning to make between what we eat and our overall health and well-being, and how this connection is even more critical to a child’s health. This link is being examined by the medical community in ways we never would have dreamed of even 10 years ago.
So it is a natural step, a preventative step, for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, the only free-standing academic children’s hospital in the region, to take a holistic approach to child wellness by creating a comprehensive and carefully designed childhood health, lifestyle and nutrition program.
We are doing so by building partnerships, in our community, in Texas and beyond.
With help from my colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio, Goldsbury Foundation and H-E-B, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio recently announced its pioneering culinary health and education program aimed at reducing childhood obesity and improving access to nutritious food for the hospital’s patients and the community at large.
The program connects children, families, food, health care providers and cooking, underscoring the link among diet, development and disease. It is comprised of family nutrition education, food preparation, cooking and lifestyle enhancement courses, as well as extensive community outreach initiatives that aim to break the cycle of obesity and improve access to healthy food and educational resources related to nutrition. Some elements of the program, which will launch over the next year, include:
A teaching kitchen designed by the Culinary Institute of America, which will offer nutrition and hands-on cooking courses created by the CIA in conjunction with the clinical experts at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. This will build on our work with Aramark, one of the leading food service providers in the U.S. and the hospital’s food service provider. These will be offered to patients, families and the public.
Teaching and healing gardens that will include 2.4 acres for patients and families to play, pray and learn through interactive experiences and learn about the foundations of a healthy diet.
Along with H-E-B, Prescriptions for Produce, a program in which health care providers of the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio can write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables to be redeemed at their local H-E-B stores.
As we put these innovative concepts into action, we will critically examine the success of each program using the latest approaches of evidence-based medicine.
We have also forged a partnership with the Witte Museum, and thanks to the efforts of its leadership team, we are a part of the H-E-B Body Adventure exhibit, with particular emphasis on the demonstration kitchen and toddler discovery garden. It is another example of how the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is making strides to elevate the community conversation about health and wellness.
The essence of pediatrics is prevention. Together as a community, we can live up to the wonderful saying “You are what you eat.” So instead of talking about it, let’s live it.
Mark Gilger, M.D., is pediatrician in chief at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.