Twenty-five percent of New Mexican children are obese. They have higher rates of depression and low-self esteem and experience more instances of bullying,” said Dr. Nate Link, a University of New Mexico Pediatrics resident and CIR delegate. “It’s driven by society and it’s totally preventable.”
Dr. Link has taken this epidemic head-on by establishing School Gardens for Health, a food growing program based in Albuquerque schools. When it came time to choose a project for the pediatric residency program’s annual Childhood Advocacy Month, a school gardening program seemed just the fit. “I worked on an organic farm for a couple summers in college. Working on a farm really demystified the food production process. There’s some technical knowledge, but essentially if you put a seed in the ground and take care of it, it will grow.”
With funding from a Home Depot community improvement grant, Dr. Link set up a community garden at a local Albuquerque school and was thrilled with the response. “When things started growing, the students really wanted to eat them. We had kids fighting over broccoli.”
But soon he realized a limitation. “I learned a lot about working with kids and realized how overworked teachers are,” said Dr. Link. With a grant from Community Access To Child Health (CATCH), the program was able to incorporate lesson plans for local teachers and build gardens at two additional schools. Doctors and other health professionals also went into the schools to present on nutrition, how the body works, and New Mexico health statistics. This year, the program will also work with local chefs to run cooking classes—ideally using produce from the school gardens.
Additionally, the program will introduce medical students to motivational interviewing, an interviewing technique first used by clinical psychologists to move patients beyond ambivalence about their conditions and adopt healthier behaviors. First and second year medical students will have the opportunity to interview five to ten families and learn methods of community-based research. “I’ve learned a lot in residency about motivational interviewing, said Dr. Link. “It’s difficult for families with fewer resources to make the changes needed to improve health. We need to get families involved and we need to train people on techniques like motivational interviewing to do it.”