Healthy eating and regular exercise provide a strong foundation for success in life, according to Professor Arlette Perry, in the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development’s Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences (KIN).
“You don’t have to be on a special diet,” she told Miami-Dade County Public School students during the summer’s Translational Health in Nutrition and Kinesiology (THINK) program. “If you eat nutritious foods and stay active, your weight will take care of itself.”
Supported by a grant from the Children’s Trust Foundation, the THINK program uses exercise and sports to help students learn about how their bodies function and empower them to improve their own lifestyle behaviors. This summer about 50 middle school students age 11 to 13 took part in the six-week program, getting an on-campus college experience, including advice on academic success from Gina Astorini, associate dean, Undergraduate Academic Services.
“Our program this year drew a very diverse group of participants from all over South Florida,” said Perry. “Our faculty and students organized a variety of activities, so our participants would have fun while learning something new.”
Daily activities included lectures, team-building activities, healthy lunches, outdoor sports, visits to the UM Herbert Wellness Center, and to the school’s Max Orovitz Laboratories and the Laboratory of Clinical and Applied Kinesiology. KIN Professor Moutaz Eltoukhy demonstrated the school’s motion capture technology, which allowed the students to analyze their own movements.
“Our students were excited to hear from a panel of UM varsity athletes about all they do to maintain their personal health and fitness to stay on top of their sport while balancing their academic responsibilities,” Perry said. “They loved seeing the Varsity Training Room and Strength and Conditioning Facility which certainly was a highlight of their field trip.”
Drawing on her research on obesity, Perry showed the middle-school students how excess fat can affect the heart and circulation system. She also showed them how to calculate body fat and why it’s important to avoid highly processed foods high in salt and sugar. “We spent time reading the labels of food products and pointing out ingredients that aren’t healthy,” she added. “We encourage the students to tell their parents, as well.”
Another highlight was a July 1 meeting with U.S. Rep Donna Shalala (D-Miami), former University of Miami president and secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “She talked about her humble beginnings and holding down two jobs to work her way through school,” Perry said. “It was very inspiring for our participants, especially those from underserved neighborhoods.”
Through the years, the school’s THINK program has had a profound impact on students and families throughout South Florida, said Perry. “This summer, we saw terrific gains in aerobic fitness and social and emotional behaviors. We hope the graduates of this program will go on to lead active, healthy lifestyles, and become future health ambassadors for their families and communities.”