With a rise in teen obesity and weight-related illnesses, Teens in Action with Goals members say it's time for nutritional awareness in young people.
"Most people don't know about what they eat and how they eat, and they should know," said group member Turquoise Rolax.
The group held its first Hip-Hop Health Days classes two weeks ago, teaching members the importance of eating right, exercising and offering screenings for blood pressure, vision and weigh-ins.
"We're really concerned about health issues in the teens," said Teens in Action with Goals co-founder Wendy Lacy. "Lots of time when you're young no one really talks about this. You go around not eating properly, not exercising and we just want (young people) to be cautious."
She also wants students to be active.
By the time school lets out and summer vacation begins, too many teens become vegetables in front of television sets or computers instead of grabbing for vegetables and activity. It leads to summer weight gain and a lifetime of bad eating habits, Ms. Lacy said.
"That weight gain in the summer is serious," she said, noting that just about every year her group has to reorder new bottoms for the cheerleader uniforms because many of the girls have outgrown the ones from the previous year.
Ms. Lacy says she has high blood pressure and her husband is diabetic. She wants the teen group's members to avoid similar health issues.
"It's about choice," she said. "These diseases, though sometimes genetic, are really caused by unhealthy eating habits. That's the main reason we're doing this. We don't want teens to be like us. They have a choice. I had a choice."
Choosing a healthful lifestyle requires being informed, however.
Students at the health summit learned about the food groups and exercise. Nurses conducted the health screenings and the group launched a physical fitness challenge to members.
"People need to be aware of this," said Jeana Takash, a dietetic intern at University Hospital. "They're not taught enough about it in school and it's a very important part of preventing obesity and health problems."
Teens need to realize that being concerned about what they eat isn't just an adult issue. Even though their metabolisms are high now, that will change later and students should be ready.
"It's easier to develop good eating habits while you're young - whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk - it's better to start now than later in life because it's hard to break the habit. It's kind of like smoking if you start young, it's harder to quit," Ms. Takash said.
Langford Middle School seventh-grader Chicora Givens, 13, said she's making the changes.
"I think this was good," she said. "I think I'm healthy, but it's good because this made you think about eating right and making you want to lose weight."
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to know more about healthful eating habits? Here's how to get the lowdown on good foods:
Go online. At www.mypyramid.gov, you'll find a breakdown of what foods are good and should be eaten in what quantities. Parents might find the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) helpful for information on weight-related illness and prevention. The Create Meal feature at www.calorieking.com lets users measure the amount of calories and fat present in selections from national fast-food restaurants.
Go to the library. Books and magazines about what's healthful and helpful for young bodies are everywhere.
Go to class. Colleges, community centers and some high schools offer nutrition classes that can be taken as an elective. They can be used as ways to learn much more, and in much more practical terms good tips for eating and exercising.
Source: Jeana Takash, dietetic intern for University Hospital