Bringing Healthy Food Where It's Needed | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Bringing Healthy Food Where It's Needed

Xiaomeng Li has helped create an innovative program to combat teen obesity
Xiaomeng Li is one of three Teachers College students (and four associated with Columbia) who scored a prestigious award for their innovative Harlem Fruit Project last spring, but the hope is the real winners will be neighborhood adolescents armed with new awareness of the vital role fresh produce plays in their diets.
Li, a native of Mainland China, is in the second year of her Master of Science program in nutrition and education. The Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section of the American Public Health Association recognized her and three others for efforts to boost fruit and vegetable consumption among youths in Harlem.
TC students Li, Katie Hornung (M.A., Sociology and Education, ’09) and Diana Cardona, along with Amy Patel of the Mailman School of Public Health, were honored for that work at the association’s annual meeting last November in Philadelphia.
The students created the campaign during a course on social marketing and health communications taught by Ray Marks, Adjunct Associate Professor of Health Education at TC. The project addresses widespread concerns that, by more readily opting for a Big Mac than a McIntosh apple, young people are helping to create a nation in which two in three adolescents are overweight.
The resulting health issues are often more pronounced among racial and ethnic minorities. Li notes that only two supermarkets per every 10,000 people serve Harlem’s residents, a shortage that puts fresh fruit and vegetables beyond reach of the average teen.
To reverse that trend, she and other project members hope to enlist wholesale fruit companies to increase availability and promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the underserved region. The group wants to implement a fruit truck to deliver products to residents with limited access, and to ply the neighborhoods with colorful signs and banners crafted to appeal to youthful eyes.
Brochures and T-shirts bearing the stylized Harlem Fruit Project Logo help 12- through 18-year-olds identify with a brand that is uniquely their own. Li is also designing a Web site offering basic nutritional facts and outlining the downside of calorie-rich fast food, snacks.
The project is working to further develop a relationship with the Harlem Health Promotion Center at Columbia, one of 33 centers the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsors nationally.
Li, 25, grew up in Datong in her country’s Shanxi Province, about eight hours north of Beijing. She attended Beijing Normal University, the main teachers college in China, graduating in 2008 with a major in biology.
She plans to work in the United States for several years as a registered dietician before returning to China, where, she laments, a fast-food culture is taking hold in the larger cities, bringing all its attendant health woes.

Published Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010


More Stories