By Kathy Vogeltanz

The Morehouse School of Medicine continues to expand its excellent educational program by putting students in the community to teach kids about exercise and healthy eating.

“Our med students learn more nutrition this way than if I or a nutritionist were to lecture them on the topic,” said Dr. Daniel S. Blumenthal, Professor of Community Health & Preventive Medicine and Associate Dean for Community Health at Morehouse School of Medicine. “They also reach out to communities in ways that I hope they’ll continue after they graduate.”

The elementary school nutrition program is part of Morehouse School of Medicine’s Community Health Course for all first-year medical students. In the first semester, they identify a community’s health problems. In the second semester, they undertake a health project that addresses one or more of those problems.
Dr. Blumenthal reports that several years ago, his group was assigned to the Tull Waters Elementary School that served the Jonesboro North and South public housing projects, located in southeast Atlanta on Jonesboro Road.

“The principal was concerned about the children’s nutritional status and asked us to address the issue. We weighed and measured the children in grades three to five, expecting that this group of low-income kids would be underfed. Everyone was surprised to find that a third of them were overweight or obese! Very few were underweight. This was before the problem of childhood obesity was generally known.”

Successive classes of medical students taught nutrition and physical activity to the children; one year, they even opened a fruit and vegetable market in the projects. Eventually, the Jonesboro Projects were torn down by the Atlanta Housing Authority and the Tull Waters school was closed.

Two years ago, Dr. Marilyn Hughes, the Atlanta Public Schools Nutritionist, directed Dr. Blumenthal to the Thomasville Heights Elementary School, which served the Thomasville Heights public housing project and Forest Cove, a private, low-income apartment complex.

The Morehouse School of Medicine students were warmly welcomed and they conducted a similar project. The housing project was torn down by AHA this year, but the school still serves Forest Cove. The new principal, Charles Penn, remains very supportive of the Morehouse School of Medicine students and their project.

Dr. Blumenthal pointed out that, in addition to the nutrition project, the 14 med students tutor about 25 of the elementary school students every Wednesday afternoon for an hour after school. “The children seem delighted by the whole project, as is the staff of Thomasville Heights Elementary School. I’m hopeful that the children are learning not only about nutrition and exercise, but are also viewing the med students as role models.”

He said that almost all the children come from single-parent low-income households and see few adults, other than their teachers, who’ve achieved what most people see as success. The med students, he hopes, represent to the children what they could be if they apply themselves. Following this line of thought, the med students are teaching sessions on careers to help the children think about their own futures and develop plans.

“Our med students really seem to thrive in the program,” Dr. Blumenthal said. “I think that ‘typical’ med students at many med schools might view this as a waste of time, but Morehouse students are a little different. Most of our graduates practice in underserved communities that really need this kind of support.”

For more information, visit www.msm.edu.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.