SUPERKIDS FOR SUPERFOODS: Nutrition-Based Service Learning Addresses Food Insecurity-Obesity Paradox and Promotes Health Easting in School-Aged Youth: Ruthi Solari, MS, CN
As a nutritionist, Ruthi Solari began Saybrook’s Masters program in Mind Body Medicine with a keen interest in the important role food plays in preventative healthcare and holistic wellness for individuals and communities. When Solari learned that 15% of Americans rely on emergency food sources as a primary source for household food and U.S. schools receive significant support from foodbanks to help provide meals for food-insecure students, she saw an opportunity to improve the nutritional quality of food distributed through food banks. In 2009, Solari founded a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called SuperFood Drive to focus on healthy hunger relief initiatives. Traditionally, food banks have struggled just to fill empty stomachs – often with no focus on nutrition. Solari had a vision to infuse existing hunger relief organizations (food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens) with healthy food and nutrition education.
The timing could not have been better since increasing rates of food insecurity are known to be highly correlated with an increasing prevalence of being overweight and obesity and individuals facing food insecurity are five times more likely to visit an emergency room. Instead of reinventing a wheel in how to get food to vulnerable populations, Solari saw an opportunity to improve existing systems and in that process, to shift hunger relief organization into preventative health initiatives. In just the first two years, SuperFood Drive helped collect over 30,000 pounds of healthy, nutritious non-perishables for the San Diego community.
Observing the increasing need for nutrition education, obesity prevention and hunger relief for Americans struggling to get by in a overburdened economy, Solari focused her Master’s project on the development and launch of a youth service engagement program within SuperFood Drive called SuperKids for SuperFoods (SKSF). SKSF was designed to educate middle- and high‑school students about the health benefits of nutrient-dense foods, while engaging with them in a community-wide approach to alleviating hunger and obesity.
The SKSF program objectives are to increase the nutritional profile of foods distributed in emergency food programs and teach sustainable healthy eating habits to participating students. To meet these goals, Solari developed a comprehensive 6-week curriculum, which was then successfully piloted at two schools. In addition, she engaged a small group of business-school students to conduct a feasibility study of the program model. Both the pilot and the feasibility study determined SKSF to be well designed, scalable, and timely in meeting a very important social need. SKSF raises nutrition awareness and calls on youth to host their own SuperFood Drive to collect healthy food for the local community. By helping to make healthy food accessible to individuals in need, students learn sustainable healthy eating choices for themselves.
Solari presented SuperFood Drive’s work at the World Nutrition Conference in Rio de Janeiro in April 2012 and will present at the American Public Health Association conference in San Francisco in October 2012. SuperFood Drive’s programs, including SuperKids For SuperFoods, will be replicated in cities and states throughout the U.S. beginning as soon as later this year.