In Charleston, Fed Up Students Take the Fight to Big Fat Industries

In 2015, Elizabeth Werts and Kaitlyn Connor, both students of George Washington High School in Charleston, decided they wanted to work on health issues at their school.

So they reached out to other students and teachers to launch a Healthy Living Club. It began meeting weekly after school to get familiar different types of physical activity, and strategies for making more healthy foods available in school.

In its first year, the club did some fun things, holding yoga sessions, and laying the groundwork for a school garden.

Students then connected with Dr. Jaime Jeffrey of the West Virginia Fed Up Movement, who guided the students to the Fed Up documentary and related curriculum.

West Virginia Fed Up has made it their mission to equip children and teens with the tools necessary to confront a culture that promotes obesity and poor health.

The movement is working to educate kids about the dangers of “Big Fat Industries”: fast food, junk food and soft drink companies, which often target children, using the same marketing and sales strategies employed by cigarette companies back in the 50s and 60s. These industries spend billions of dollars on advertising, and use celebrity endorsements, colorful packaging and cartoon characters to entice children and their parents to consume their unhealthy products.

The Fed Up documentary, available to all West Virginia schools, encouraged students to begin arming themselves with facts about the foods they, their families, and peers were consuming en masse.

Now, the West Virginia Fed Up Movement is growing a network of West Virginia children willing to work with school cooks on new menus, and ask for healthier options in school vending machines and concession stands.

In 2016, the Healthy Living Club traveled to West Virginia Wesleyan College to attend the annual Try This West Virginia conference. At Try This, students engaged in discussions about promoting healthy school environments and shared a number of strategies they were using to help students form healthy habits.

In the coming weeks, the Healthy Living Clubs plans to visit Holtz and Ruthlawn Elementary schools to spread the word about soda, junk food, and sugary snacks.

“Look how much sugar is in this!” George Washington students talk to younger kids at Overbrooke about “Big Fat Industries.”

Back at school, club members observed that students weren’t utilizing the water fountains and so they set a goal to have them upgraded. The club applied for, and received, a $2,200 grant through Try This West Virginia to install filtered water stations throughout the school.

Once the filtered water stations were installed, the club sold fruit-infusing water bottles to students and teachers. They encouraged all of George Washington High to refill their bottles often and to always bring a water bottle to school.

The Healthy Living Club sold more than 100 water bottles to the students and faculty in the first three days of the sale. Recently, the club began selling 32-ounce tumblers sporting the George Washington High logo. Now, they’re seeing more individuals with water bottles at school each day.

In 2017, the Healthy Living Club will rekindle their school garden, which supplies fresh herbs, spices and lettuce to the school cafeteria, and continue to educate the student body on the importance of healthy foods and an active lifestyle.

Last week, the club took their show on the road to Overbrooke Elementary School, where they presented the facts behind unhealthy foods to two third grade classes.

And this group of informed teens isn’t stopping anytime soon. In the coming weeks, the Healthy Living Club plans to visit Holtz and Ruthlawn Elementary schools to spread the word about soda, junk food, and sugary snacks.

This story was originally published at the West Virginia Community Development Hub’s Blog