Dr. Mehmet Oz, the two-time Daytime Emmy Award-winning host of “The Dr. Oz Show” will visit ASTEC Charter High School in Oklahoma City Monday.
The school is the first in Oklahoma and the region to be selected to participate in the program geared toward increasing the health and fitness levels of high school students, to fight the rising rates of childhood and adult obesity in the United States.
The program is a function of HealthCorps, a nonprofit organization founded in 2003 by Oz and his wife Lisa Oz.
The program uses peer mentoring along with highly-trained HealthCorps coordinators who help teens develop their knowledge and interest in health topics including fitness and nutrition.
“When the right messenger explains to a teenager why an apple is better fuel for their body than a candy bar — they get it,” Oz said in an email interview. “When the right messenger demonstrates to a teenager that both their bodies and their minds function better with exercise — they get it.”
Along with Oz on the school visit will be Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources Inc., which sponsors the Oklahoma City arm of the HealthCorps program at a cost of about $75,000 per year. During the visit Oz and Hamm plan to meet with students and ASTEC faculty to hear firsthand how the program is affecting their lives.
Oz and Hamm, who is founder of the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma, will address a rally of more than 700 ASTEC students, faculty, parents and supporters.
Later, Oz will be keynote speaker at an event for the diabetes center. None of the appearances is open to the public.
About 33 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to Journal of the American Medical Association.
In 2000, no state had obesity prevalence at 30 percent or higher, but today, 12 states do.
Additionally, 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kids are overweight for many reasons, Oz said.
“A sedentary lifestyle, a growing reliance on convenient, highly processed foods, too much sugar, lack of physical education and activity during school, and really a lack of knowledge,” he said.
Childhood obesity can harm a child's body in many ways including causing high blood pressure and high cholesterol which can cause cardiovascular disease. Obesity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as sleep apnea, joint problems, liver disease, gallstones. It can heighten risk for social and psychological disorders such as depression and poor self-esteem.
Oz said that after a meeting last fall with Hamm, the two decided it was time to bring HealthCorps to Oklahoma City.
“Dr. Oz and I agree that teaching children to live a healthy lifestyle will equip them to achieve great things,” Hamm said via email.
Before HealthCorps goes into a city or state, Oz said the nonprofit team gets recommendations from people on the ground.
“Where is the need, where would our program fit, where are the opportunities for growth?” Oz said. “A school that kept coming up was ASTEC Charter High School. Our team was told what a remarkable school it is, with a dedicated faculty, staff and parents.”
ASTEC already had a sports and physical education program in place, said Dr. Freda Deskin, founder and CEO of ASTEC. Every hour on the hour, children are bussed from the school to a local church gymnasium where they have physical education.
“We really incorporate health and wellness into our entire school culture,” Deskin said. But more intervention is needed to curb childhood obesity.
Though ASTEC serves a high-need population, a criteria for HealthCorps to go into a school, Oz said, 92 percent of the students that graduate from ASTEC go on to college.
“That's important to us as well,” Oz said. “HealthCorps encourages students to look at career paths in health, physical activity, and nutrition.”
Filling the role of HealthCorps coordinator at ASTEC is Ryan Fightmaster, a recent University of Oklahoma graduate. Fightmaster accepted the position for two years, delaying his entrance into OU's School of Medicine to perform the important job.
All HealthCorps coordinators are recent college graduates who have deferred their education or careers for two years to serve in high-need high schools around the country.
“That's the beauty of the coordinator — they are just old enough and professional enough to command respect, but they are young and ‘current,' so in a high school student's eyes, they have credibility,” Oz said.
Fightmaster has been successful getting his students motivated, Deskin said. He's also inspired many of the teachers and staff at ASTEC with health programs such as a “Walk to Chicago” challenge for which Deskin said she's wearing a pedometer around to gauge her walking progress.
Fightmaster has also found ways to counsel many of the staff members who struggle weight issues and with diabetes.
Fightmaster himself has waged a nearly lifelong battle against type-1 diabetes — the 23-year-old was diagnosed at age 8.
He said he's been compelled by his experience with the disease to devote his career to advancing the ideals of good health and active lifestyle.
“We are sitting on this epidemic and if it's not faced, and if there's not education, and kids aren't told how they should feel about being healthy and if they can't actually feel what it's like to be healthy, then were going to be in trouble,” Fightmaster said.
As HealthCorps coordinator, Fightmaster teaches the ASTEC high school and middle school students about all aspects of health, nutrition and fitness.
During the month of intensive training he underwent through HealthCorps, Fightmaster said he was trained in everything from healthy cooking and nutrition to teaching yoga. He's been on the job at ASTEC full-time since Aug. 5.
“Our real goal is for our students to graduate and become community leaders with an eye for health,” Fightmaster said. “I want to open up the eyes of people to what is possible when you live a healthy life. Because we really can't achieve everything we're supposed to unless our mind is fit, our body is fit and we're ready to go out and achieve.”
Since HealthCorps began, Oz said its positive affects on the kids whose lives it touches can be seen in decreases in sugary soda consumption, more physical activity (participants reported they were 36 percent more likely to be active) and 10.7 percent higher health knowledge test scores.