Growing Heart Healthy Kids in the Heart of East Jerusalem

Friday, May 30 2014

Heart health is a major focus for Hadassah in both the United States and Israel. In the U.S., thousands of women and girls are participating in walks, lectures, and health fairs under the aegis of Every Beat Counts: Hadassah’s Heart Health Program™. In Israel, the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women--part of its Heart Health Institute—is taking the heart health message to children, mothers, and teachers in Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas, Director of the Hadassah Medical Center’s Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women, joined her team on a visit to two Palestinian East Jerusalem schools recently to see how well the Center’s heart health message is playing out among the children and their mothers.

Inside the Al-Eisawieh School for Girls, a public school in the Arab neighborhood adjacent to Hadassah's Mount Scopus campus, the stairs and walls of the school are decorated with tomatoes and cucumbers. A play is going on in the gym, where a girl dressed as a milk carton is debating another dressed as a Pepsi bottle.

In one classroom, the girls are cutting up salad. In another, they're turning vegetables into flowers to upgrade snack time. It wasn't always like that. Before, a truck might drive up during recess with soda and junk food for sale.

Across town in the Abu Tor girls' school, the teacher asks how many girls ate breakfast that morning. All the hands fly up. That's new. Many of the girls didn't consider eating a healthy breakfast before this. Their moms are delighted, and now often join them at the table.

Al-Eisawieh and Abu Tor are two of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem targeted for intervention by Hadassah’s Wellness Center. In these lower-income families, mothers have little exposure to health education and little time and money to take care of themselves.

Dr. Zfat-Zwas explains: "We believe that a good place to start is in elementary school--not only to inculcate eating and exercise habits, but to impact their moms. When they begin eating a healthy breakfast and bringing a healthy snack to school, it changes the purchasing and eating habits of an entire family.”

In addition, since the schools have launched these creative educational programs, the teachers have lost weight too!

A journalist, who accompanied Dr. Zfat-Zwas on these visits, summed up the impact in her subsequent article: “I was so inspired, I wanted to dance! The principals of these schools have incorporated heart health into every aspect of learning... art, music, gym class, language, math, you name it! The girls put on shows for us, sang songs, conducted science experiments, did demonstrations--such as a dialogue between a can of Pepsi and a glass of milk, puppet shows, you name it. Enthusiasm, creativity, spunk--it was all there. They are going to save thousands of lives with their work, if not more. Entire families are going to be changed, nay, saved by [their] efforts!"

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