Anthony Graves eats all his carrots.
But only a few months ago, the 13-year-old from New Castle filled up on junk food.
“I used to eat chips, cupcakes and soda,” he says. “Now I eat carrots, broccoli and tomatoes.”
Anthony is enrolled in Camp FRESH, short for “fresh resources everyone should have,” founded in 2007 by Christiana Care’s Center for Community Health, part of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. The nine-week program educates youth, ages 13-18, on nutrition and encourages them to eat healthy foods, while being aware that their food environment could make it difficult to do so.
Camp FRESH also works with the Delaware Center for Horticulture to educate youths on how people in urban communities can grow their own produce.
On a recent afternoon, Anthony and other campers asked people in Rodney Square to take the 2011 Community Food Access Survey to gauge the eating habits of people in the city of Wilmington and assess their attitudes on accessibility to healthy foods. They asked consumers what kinds of food they eat, where they buy groceries and how much they exercise.
Results from the first survey, administered in 2007, found that a lack of access to nutritious foods was a serious obstacle to healthy eating habits. Since then, two new supermarkets have opened—ShopRite on Market Street in Wilmington and Food Lion on Governor Printz Boulevard in Edgemoor.
The latest results, to be compiled in the fall, will help to identify continuing barriers in urban communities to eating nutritious, low-fat foods and working out.
Richard Johnson of Bear, a school disciplinarian who took the survey, told Anthony that he has given up red meat and fried foods and eats lots of fruits and vegetables. He thinks Camp FRESH will have a lasting, positive impact on the youths.
“Working in schools, I see that obesity is a serious problem with kids,” he says. “Christiana Care is doing a very good thing in teaching kids about nutrition.”
Indeed, Delawareans are getting fatter, according to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report says 28 percent of adults in the First State are obese, defined as weighing at least 20 percent more than normal. Among children, 33.2 percent are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Campers come primarily from Wilmington, where corner stores carry little fresh produce and supermarkets are not readily accessible.
“We tell kids that fast food might taste good—but it is not good for you,” says Christopher C. Moore, healthy lifestyle coordinator at Christiana Care’s Center for Community Health. “We know that if given the right tools and information, the Camp FRESH youth have the ability to affect a lot of positive change.”
Over the years, more than 250 teens have participated in the program. Many say they are learning good habits that will last a lifetime.
“On the first day, I stopped drinking soda and started drinking water,” says Dkwan Brown, 14, of Wilmington. “Now I eat collard greens and salad. Anything that looks healthy, I will try.”
Instead of fried chicken, 13-year-old Aionna Williams of Wilmington asks her mother to make baked chicken. She and her mom stock up on veggies at ShopRite, Walmart and Target, as well as the Camp FRESH farmer’s market.
“The corner store is convenient but they don’t have healthy foods, only chips and stuff,” she says.
As for Anthony, he has lost 5 pounds and feels more energetic.
“I can tell that eating healthy foods is good for me,” he says. “That is why I want to get other people on board.”