Pre-med students use hands-on lessons to teach healthy living

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A. Sue Weisler

RIT pre-med students, from left to right, Megan Ross, Sarah Taber and Patrick Dineen, visited James P.B. Duffy School No. 12 in Rochester to show youngsters what real human organs look like.

Standing in the gymnasium of Rochester’s James P.B. Duffy School No. 12, third-year biomedical sciences major Nick Biondi holds a human heart for a class of second graders to see. As he shows the effects of diet and exercise on a cardiovascular system, he hears “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, along with one “ew, that’s gross!”

Biondi is director of social events for RIT’s Premedical Student Association and one of the brains behind the group’s Childhood Obesity Outreach Program. The program uses a play written by the pre-med student, organs from the human gross anatomy lab, posters, exercises and games to teach the importance of eating healthy and staying active. 

“Childhood obesity in this country is becoming a big problem,” says Justin Smith, fourth-year biomedical sciences major and director of community service for the student organization. “The earlier you can reach out and explain this, the better chance kids have of changing their habits.” 

The group of about 10 members is currently working with five Rochester city schools to put on assemblies and gym-class lectures, teaching the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. 

The idea originated from a childhood obesity awareness exhibit that the student organization held during last year’s Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. In the exhibit, they took families through an obstacle course, showed them human organs, took their blood pressure and emphasized healthy living.

In the fall, Biondi had the idea to bring those same messages and teaching devices directly to the schools. After distributing a few letters to Rochester principals, the pre-med students were invited to present for gym classes and host several assemblies for groups spanning second to sixth grade. 

“A lot of teachers have asked us to come in to help fulfill their health requirement for the curriculum,” notes Biondi. “For example, if the class is learning about the respiratory system, we bring in lungs to show the distinction between a smoker’s lung and a non-smoker’s lung.”

“We started with the idea of healthy lifestyles, which include nutrition, exercise and healthy habits,” says Smith. “As we keep working with the schools, they have made requests to do other presentations about self-confidence and bullying—topics that emphasize a healthy body and healthy mind.”

The group plans to continue the program through the spring and hopes to involve more schools from the larger Rochester area starting next year. 

As Biondi holds a human brain for the kids to see, a dull roar of questions begins to reverberate around the gymnasium. 

“Is that real?”

“How did you get that out?”

As well as one “Can we eat that?”

“The program is a win-win because it sparks an interest in learning and teaches about obesity at the same time,” says Biondi.