A student writes about an extracurricular activity
During first year and the summer after first year, I worked in the Childhood Obesity Clinic. It was a fitness clinic and nutrition clinic for overweight kids in the community. When they came, the kids would receive education and also a chance to exercise in an effort to combat their obesity and the self-esteem and other social issues that came with it. The nutrition component was very interesting. You would see the kids knowing the correct answers to all of the questions we asked: how many calories are in this, how much fat is in this, is fat better than carbs, are carbs better than protein, which vitamins are in this food, etc. However, it really seemed like a game to them. They would go to McDonald’s on the way to the game, then play the game and answer all of our nutrition questions, and then leave and go back to McDonald’s on the way home. It taught me that it is not enough to give patients information and then challenge them to learn it and to answer questions correctly. If you expect to help people change their unhealthy habits, you have to make sure they really hear what you are saying, understand the significance, and buy into the idea.
In addition to this valuable lesson, I also learned tremendously powerful lessons by playing games with the children after the nutrition sessions. One day, we played football with two mixed teams of medical students and clinic participants. There were several very bright, very motivated medical students who wanted to help these kids and several very, very overweight children. Watching the game, you could see that these kids had never had a chance to really interact in a physical way with their peers. It seemed that they wanted the opportunity but had not figured out how to obtain it yet.
I remember very vividly one particular play in which I threw a touchdown pass to one of the little boys. He was a 12-year old kid who was probably about 4′ 5″ and extremely obese, and it was remarkable to watch his eyes light up as he caught the ball, turned, and ran down the field with medical students following after him. They were not necessarily trying to outrun him, but they gave him the chance to compete as he ran all the way down the field. When he scored the touchdown, he did a little victory dance and really celebrated. It was wonderful to see how much he benefited from what he was able to do and feel. The physical experience during our games was probably more valuable to these kids than any of the nutrition instruction. I am happy to say that I think my classmates and I have continued to remember this lesson, especially during our clinical years. There is much more interacting than lecturing when we are learning from each other, and this is also true in our patient relationships. I think it’s really a wonderful thing to see.