East Jerusalem Students Celebrate Revolution in Eating Habits, Thanks to Hadassah

Monday, May 15 2017

Representatives of Hadassah's Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women were excited to receive an invitation to visit two Jerusalem schools in Arab neighborhoods where Hadassah’s Health and Nutrition programs are thriving. As you can see in this video, students were thrilled to demonstrate what they had learned.

The Pollin Center is working in 18 different schools -- Arab and Jewish -- in Jerusalem.

Al Salam (Peace) School
At the Al Salam (Peace) school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Um Tuba, a drum corps in scout uniforms waited outside the school to welcome representatives of Hadassah's Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women. The playground was filled with youth, ages 12 to 21, where oversized chutes and ladders games had been modified to emphasize healthy food choices. In one corner, 15-year-old scientists were showing the benefits of toothpaste by coating eggshells and dipping them in vinegar. Others sang odes to healthy eating. In the classrooms, students ate fruit- and vegetable-rich breakfasts, and on the roof, a "cafeteria"  offered fruit shakes and popcorn. Nearby, was the school's “victory garden” of herbs, such as basil and za'atar.

With the arrival of Hadassah’s nutrition program at this special education school,  teachers say, there's been a revolution in eating habits. They, too, have benefited. Subhi Wishdin, 58, a grandmother who works as a teacher's aide, herself lost 33 pounds this year.

"I heard so much about healthy eating and exercise that I finally took myself in hand," she says. Previously, she'd avoided the school stairs. Her doctor had already diagnosed her with high blood pressure. "Now I feel wonderful,” Mrs. Wishdin says. “My daughter sent me a before-and-after picture, and I didn't recognize the before. I am already passing on what I have learned to my children and grandchildren.”

Hana Arja, an occupational therapist who works in the school, said that having the children work in the healthy cafeteria helps them internalize these healthy messages: to cut out junk food, drink more water, and increase exercise.

Because Al Salam is a magnet school, children come from many areas around Jerusalem. The ride to school might take an hour or more, so they have to get up early. "We begin each day with exercise, which is an excellent way to calm their nerves after the long ride to school," notes Assistant Principal Sharifa Ruman. "We follow that with a healthy breakfast, and then get down to studying."

According to Pollin Center Dietician Mona Aweda, who has given healthy eating lectures in the school, many of the girls hail from families where the moms have heard the lesson and later come to see her to talk about healthy eating and losing excess weight.

The Issawiya Girls Elementary School
Pollin Center representatives also visited the 850-student Issawiya Girls Elementary School, across Jerusalem, adjacent to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus. Their visit began with two plays. The girls were dressed as teeth, and a beauty contest was held between those that were brushed daily and kept sweet-free and others that were less careful of dental health. The second play featured a trial of a smoker (with a girl dressed as a man). “He” was accused of hurting his own heart, liver, and lungs, as well as his family by refusing to stop smoking. In a sixth-grade class, the girls  weighed and measured each other to check their body mass index (BMI).

The Pollin Center healthy eating program has been operating in this school for four years. Its curriculum was created by Dr. Maha Nubani-Husseini, then a doctoral student and now the center's Director of Health Programs for the Arab Sectors of Jerusalem. Upstairs, in the classrooms, a panoply of music, art, drama, and salad-making demonstrations. "We have succeeded in creating a culture of good health," said School Principal Afaf Kadumi.

Also on hand was the principal of the boys' school next door, where people say the girls school has done outreach -- also at a nearby kindergarten -- all part of efforts to get the whole neighborhood on the same page for healthy eating.

“It's spectacular to see how you, both students and teachers, have internalized the messages,”  Pollin Center Director and Cardiologist Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas said. “You are already spreading the word yourselves. We couldn't be prouder."

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