On a clear day, you can stand at the corner of Broad and Olney and see Center City Philadelphia very well down the major artery of town. If you turn to your right and stare down Olney Ave., you’ll see in the distance a towering clock tower-like structure. That’s La Salle — a school simultaneously separate yet immersed in the local North Philadelphia neighborhood.
If you’ve been reading this blog at all over the past four months, then you’ll be fully aware of La Salle University’s devotion to providing help for those who live in the surrounding area in any form the school can muster.
One of these outreach programs — which, again, if you’ve been reading, you’re aware of — is the Exploring Nutrition program.
“How can we make life better for the people in our neighborhood?” asks Dr. Marjorie Allen. She and her Leadership and Global Understanding class at La Salle spearhead Exploring Nutrition.
Their attempts at food and nutrition education for students and neighborhood members spans various forms, from use of social and video media to reach a large local audience to “food mapping,” something that would allow local residents to see where they can purchase healthy foods at reasonable prices.
Education is the key, Allen argues. Whereas La Salle has organizations that appear to help wherever they’re needed, such as Pheed Philly, she wants smarter outreach. This of course involves taking a good, hard look at Philadelphia and its health landscape.
The Community Health Data Base compiles information every two years on health and nutrition in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. This chart based on its research focuses on the two zip codes covered by the Exploring Nutrition Program’s outreach. In it, you can see those in the area exercise less and are more likely to be obese than those outside the area.
Obesity in Philadelphia is nothing new, nor is this trend in America. What’s more, there is an odd dichotomy between the idea of “diet” and actual nutrition. For instance, we generally know now what foods are good for us, and which are bad for us (and the environment). However, diets aren’t always the best way to capitalize on the best foods, which explains why they are more trendy and tend to last only a few months or years. Nutrition is an exact science, whereas diets are not.
Heart disease currently sits at the top for causes of death in America, which is directly tied to being overweight and obese. In order to level off and undo the trend in poor body weight, educating Americans is the best solution, as pointed out by Dr. Edie Goldbacher at La Salle who focuses on the psychology of health and nutrition.
Defining “food deserts,” she believes that understanding the relationship between eating habits and a person’s environment is the key. Dr. Allen has agreed heavily with this, and has worked to make this trend ongoing at La Salle.
“Growth in nutrition education [at La Salle] should begin almost immediately for students,” Allen explained in an interview. La Salle’s Summit Program for incoming freshmen has given her grounds to plant seeds of knowledge concerning health. The Summit Program accepts students that need a leg up on their first year — they’re accepted into the school, but need to meet further scholastic requirements in order to become full-time students.
“For the last seven years, we’ve held a class for Summit students that focuses on nutrition and health education,” Allen went on. “From this, we’ve had a gradual boost in student interest.”
Undoubtedly, work in the classroom has bolstered support for the Exploring Nutrition Program, so much so that the Fresh Grocer’s annual Spring Food Drive has seen tremendous from La Salle students, along with assistance from outside help such as the 35th District Town Watch.
An immensely successful project, the food drive uses over $4,000 in funding from both La Salle and the Fresh Grocer to distribute nearly 4,500 lbs. of produce to local food banks and cupboards. This year, they reached over 800 families within the range of the food drive.
Philadelphia isn’t alone in its struggle to feed its residents. USA Today published an article last year with some scary statistics: nearly one out of every seven Americans require assistance in obtaining food for themselves and their families.
The research featured in the article was provided by Feeding America, which has focused on the relationship between hunger and poverty. Suffice it to say, the Exploring Nutrition Program is not alone in providing for the hungry, but it will always have its work cut out for it.
La Salle’s program is not a rare “success story,” don’t misunderstand. Every day, there are stories out there of people helping one another through food drives and local outreach programs.
It’s a group effort — “teamwork makes the dreamwork” or something like that. Corny as it sounds, it’s true. Through action and participation, those scary numbers of both obesity and hunger can shrink like a dieter’s waistband.