Children Gain Health Benefits From Orlando Health Nutrition Program

Fresh produce and nutritional education help reduced BMIs

ORLANDO – During the 2018-2019 academic year, 25.5 percent of students at Orange Center Elementary School lowered their Body Mass Indexes (BMI). In 2021-2022, more than 30 percent of the students lowered their BMIs. The decreases occurred in the eight months between Plant Day and Harvest Day – days set aside to plant and then harvest vegetables from the school’s teaching garden, a collaborative partnership between Orlando Health and Orange Center Elementary that was established in 2015. The healthier BMIs are being attributed to the free, fresh produce from the garden and monthly nutritional education sessions taught by nutritionists from Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. This year’s Harvest Day was Friday, April 28.

“Proper nutrition fuels the body and the brain, so it is important for children to learn about nutrition and healthy eating early,” said Cathleen B. Reese, senior director of human resources for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer. “Not only is eating healthy important for a child’s growth and development, but it also helps later in life to prevent medical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.”

In addition to harvesting the fresh produce, which this year included collard greens, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers, Harvest Day 2023 also featured a variety of stations where students could try new foods, exercise and have fun. Infused water, smoothies, an art station and a physical activity station provided by Orlando City Soccer Club and the Orlando Pride were all available to students. There was also a station where Orlando Health volunteers took each student’s height and weight to determine their BMI. BMIs from Harvest Day are compared to those taken during Plant Day to determine how each student did throughout the year. All students who are in school on those days may participate in the program.