Teaching Gardens Program to help fight obesity

Healthfirst and the American Heart Association announce their partnership recently to present the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens Program at PS 55 in the South Bronx, N.Y. The educational initiative teaches children how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits.

One in three American children is overweight or obese. A study by The New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene found that in the South Bronx, nearly one in four children in public elementary schools is obese and nearly four in 10 are overweight or obese1.

The PS 55 Healthfirst and American Heart Association Teaching Garden combines nutrition education with garden-based learning to promote the consumption of more fruits and vegetables by children. Studies show programs like this improve healthy behavior and positive attitudes towards healthier eating.

“The teaching garden project is a key step in eliminating childhood obesity in our high-risk communities,” said Pat Wang, Healthfirst president and CEO. “This joint effort with the American Heart Association supports Healthfirst’s mission to promote healthy living from an early age and provide the building blocks for improved academic performance and overall long-term health.”

“Today, nearly one in three American children is overweight or obese. And, in a society where French fries make up one-fourth of children’s vegetable intake and are the most common vegetable, it’s not that surprising, said Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, president, New York City American Heart Association Board of Directors. “But, the American Heart Association teaching gardens program can change that by educating children early about healthy eating habits while also changing attitudes about fruits and vegetables.”

The garden is dedicated to Megan Charlop, a veteran public health advocate and director of Community Health at Montefiore Medical Center’s School Health Program, who was killed in a tragic cycling accident in 2010. A beloved community organizer in the area, Megan was actually on her way to PS 55 the day of the accident to attend a summer camp school fair, one of the many projects she spearheaded for local children to experience. Her passion was to improve the health and well-being of Bronx residents, especially children, through fitness and improved nutrition. A special tribute ceremony will be held in her honor.

For more information about the Healthfirst and American Heart Association Teaching Gardens program, please visit www.healthfirst.org and www.heart.org/teachinggardens.


1. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Epidemiology Services. Obesity in the South Bronx. www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/dpho/dpho-bronx-obesity.pdf. Accessed April 6, 2012.