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"Growing Healthy Hearts" Collaboration Comes to Syracuse Schools to Combat Obesity

More than 2,500 children in five Syracuse City Elementary schools are hearing and seeing messages over the next several months about healthy lifestyle habits as part of an effort to reduce childhood obesity. 


It’s called Growing Healthy Hearts, and comes from collaboration between the American Heart Association and St. Joseph’s Health unveiled at Seymour Dual Language Academy.  Superintendent Jaime Alicea says the program will reinforce the district’s health education curriculum.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Superintendent Jaime Alicea says getting families focused on moving more and eating healthier, it can have a long-term difference in the larger community.

“Childhood obesity is a problem not only in our city but in our nation,” Alicea said. “Too many of our student and our families are not eating right, and quite frankly do not really know what it means to eat right.”

But according to School District Chief Monique Wright-Williams, there is more to a healthy heart than a balanced diet.  She says there are other social determinants that influence heart health.

“If you don’t have access to healthy food, it’s tough to eat a healthy diet,” Wright-Williams said. “If you don’t feel safe, it’s tough to go outside for exercise. Even graduation rates can impact heart healthy. Studies show lower graduation rates can lead to poorer health outcomes.”

While many of the district’s students may not have the resources to lead a healthy life, others face the challenge of making the right dietary choices. Executive Director of the American Heart Association’s Syracuse chapter Franklin Fry says that the AHA is trying to educate the kids on the many strategies they can use to live a healthy life. 

“So if we’re trying to message to kids in school about healthy options, we want to reinforce that when they go to the local library they will see the same signage, when they go to the corner store they’ll see the same signage,” Fry said. “So they just get these constant reinforcements of, for example, this month, we want you to focus on drinking water. Next month we are going to focus you on healthy activities, trying to stay active during the winter time.”

But Fry and the AHA are using more than just signs to express their messages to the students. Fry says he is trying to engage the children in a healthy lifestyle.

“While the messaging is pretty basic, we are trying to not just reinforce it but to make it more engaging and more fun,” Fry said. “So when the kids come home with something on their backpack, their parents can say ‘What’s that? Where did you get that?’, and start the conversations at home as well.”

Students who demonstrate healthy behaviors will receive a toy character as an incentive.  A monthly newsletter will also be sent home in English and Spanish. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at