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Sending a healthy message to third-graders

Second-year medical students Elizabeth Bassett and Sharon Johnston have a freewheeling approach to community service: "We try things one time, and if it works we make it a regular event. If not, we move on to something else," says Johnston. "Our goal is to identify community needs and to get medical students involved interactively with the community."

One such effort—a rousing success, as it turned out—was a nutrition fair held at a Lebanon, N.H., elementary school last fall. About 60 third-grade students attended the fair, which was organized into five stations with information on nutrition and healthy eating habits. The two most popular stations, Johnston says, were the "make your own healthy snack" stop (with groceries provided by the Hanover Coop and Shaw's supermarkets) and the "human food pyramid."

"It was cool when some of you stacked on each other and made a pyramid. Why did you guys and girls fall down? Is it when we get it in the wrong order?" wrote one student in his thank-you letter. Indeed it was; the medical students, dressed (roughly) as vegetables, asked the students to say how they should stack themselves to form a correct food pyramid. If the children got the costumed medical students in the wrong order, the pyramid collapsed.

The students' food costumes reflected the not-too-organized approach to the event. "The costumes were very funny," wrote another student. "Some kids thought that the carrot was a strawberry." Johnston admits that they could use "slightly better costumes. I don't know what a Davy Crockett hat had to do with being a potato, other than it happened to be in somebody's closet."

But although the planning for the event may have been a little loose, its lessons nevertheless found a receptive audience. As one appreciative attendee concluded, "I had a ton of fun learning how to keep my body healthy!"


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