At Sunrise Elementary School in Boyle Heights, teachers were noticing their students having fried food and a Coke for breakfast, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and another Coke for lunch. They knew a change had to be made. This inspired bariatric surgeon Gregg Kai Nishi, M.D., and his partners at the Khalili Center for Bariatric Care in Beverly Hills to volunteer at LAUSD schools to teach kids about obesity awareness and prevention, and how to make healthy lifestyle choices.
“We as a society don’t do much to educate our public about the dangers of overeating or eating fast food and not exercising,” says Nishi. “At first, the kids weren’t familiar with a lot of different types vegetables, and what was healthy for you versus what wasn’t… We explained why [doctors] do the things they do, and what parts of the body can be affected by not eating healthy.”
When Nishi visited Sunrise Elementary School, he would show up in his scrubs and white coat. He role-played with the students, letting them be the doctor so they would be less afraid. He then developed a program to teach the kids to be healthier. The doctors would talk to the students about eating healthy and making healthy choices, and then go outside and exercise with them.
Nishi took some of the practices he uses for adult patients and introduced them to the kids as well. He gave the students at Sunrise Elementary pedometers and helped them set goals for how far they should walk each day. The Khalili Center also sponsors their patients to participate in the LA Marathon 5K, and, with the help of Nishi and the center, many kids are now participating in the event.
The students at Sunrise Elementary were so inspired by what Nishi was teaching them that they began to share their newfound knowledge. Kids would go home and share with their families what they learned about being healthy. Their passion grew strong enough that they were even able to get the taco truck in front of the school to serve fresh fruits and vegetables.
Nishi’s top three healthy lifestyle tips include making healthy food choices, exercising and surrounding yourself with people who do the same thing. All of the technology of today tempts kids to just be at home, but Nishi encourages parents to stress the importance of getting outside. “Don’t just say it, do it together. It is not easy,” Nishi says, “but in order to save ourselves, society and our children, we have to put in a little bit of effort to make a change.”