Students from Seymour Dual Language Academy with representatives from the American Heart Association, St. Joseph’s Health, and Syracuse City School District

The American Heart Association is taking the fight against childhood obesity to Syracuse schools. On Tuesday, the AHA announced a new program in five Syracuse City School District elementary schools called Growing Healthy Hearts.

About 30% of kids and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese. In the Syracuse City School District, that number is a little higher at about 37% of students. Childhood obesity can lead to a range of health problems as children grow up, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and more.

The Growing Healthy Hearts program, made possible through a sponsorship from St. Joseph’s Health, will give students and their families in five elementary schools special access to health activities and messages with different themes each month. Students will receive a toy character from the AHA’s “Heart Hero” team of cartoon characters to help teach healthy habits. In October, students received Splash the narwhal to remind them to drink water instead of sugary beverages.

“The Growing Healthy Hearts program is focused on schools, but it’s not just about what happens in class,” said Jim Jerose, American Heart Association advisory board chairman. “We want students to learn healthy habits they can bring home and keep for life. When they stop for a snack, we want them to grab water and an apple instead of soda and candy. We want these students learn the importance of protecting their hearts early on, so they can grow up to be healthy, happy adults.”

In addition to health lessons at school, the program will also provide a monthly newsletter written in English and Spanish for students to bring home to their families. The Growing Healthy Hearts program is working with the Onondaga County Health Department and the Transforming Communities Initiative to extend the healthy lessons to local corner stores, libraries, and other community locations.

Alondra Figueroa Tolentino and Shaudrielys Carrasquillo have fun getting active

Growing Healthy Hearts is in five schools: Dr. Weeks Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School, Porter Elementary School, Seymour Dual Language Academy, and Van Duyn Elementary School. Schools were chosen by a panel including AHA, St. Joseph’s Health, and the Syracuse City School District. Panel members considered several factors including student population, community need, and programs already in place.

Finn, one of our Heart Heroes, explains to kids what’s so special about his heart and why he is a heart warrior

“By educating the 2,500 kids in these City elementary schools and their families, our immediate goal is to help reduce the childhood obesity crisis that our community and our nation are currently facing,” said Leslie Paul Luke, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health. “In the long term, we hope this helps to raise a generation that makes healthy decisions well into adulthood and creates a healthier population in Central New York.”

“Educating our students and their families on the importance of eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is so critical to their academic success,” said Syracuse City School District Superintendent Jaime Alicea. “Growing Healthy Hearts will reinforce the need to eat healthier snacks, drink more water and add fruits and vegetables to their meals.”

Future monthly themes for the Growing Healthy Hearts program include physical activity for different seasons, anti-tobacco messages, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on sodium, and more.