This morning, students assembled outside the New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School (Sci High), welcoming Dr. Oz with poster-board signs and performances by the McDonogh #35 choir and the Sci High karate club.
"To be honest, I'm not sure why he's here," said Kevin P., a junior at Sci High. "But he could be here to talk about health and living a better lifestyle."
"I think he's here to promote better health and to talk about our school lunches," said Christian Smith, a junior.
"Last year, the lunches were not as appetizing," Kevin P. added.
The students' guesses were right on the money: Dr. Mehmet Oz, HealthCorps founder, heart surgeon and Emmy-winning host of The Dr. Oz Show, had arrived because McDonogh College Preparatory High School #35 and Sci High were selected as sites for the HealthCorps program, which aims to stem the obesity crisis by educating students about their health, doing community outreach and instituting peer-mentoring programs. HealthCorps has partnered with Covington-based Evamor Natural Alkaline Water.
"In 2002, Dr. Oz gave me a plan called HealthCorps, and I said, 'What an amazing idea,' never thinking he'd start it on his own," said HealthCorps president Michelle Bouchard in an address to the students. "It's sweeping the nation, and now we're here in New Orleans."
Before speaking to the students, Dr. Oz took a tour of the school and checked out the cafeteria, touting the virtues of healthy school meals ("It keeps the kids concentrating and helps them perform better," he said) and sampling spicy, oven-baked chicken, peas and rice. "How do you make this? It's really good," he asked, mentioning that he wanted to feature the chicken on his show. "It'll be the most popular chicken around the nation."
He then spoke to the students about the purpose of HealthCorps: "Start changing what's going on by changing what's going on inside your bodies. That's what HealthCorps is about. It's not about losing weight - fundamentally, we want to give you control and mental resilience: make you tough enough up here so you can do what you want in life. People don’t change what they do based on what they know - they change what they do based on how they feel deep inside. We created HealthCorps because there's no way to get people to feel differently, I don’t think, as well as if you had someone your age ... give you that message."
Oz mentioned Louisiana is the fifth heaviest state in the country, with an obesity rate of almost 50 percent. He encouraged students to get involved with their parents' grocery shopping. "When you go home, I want you to audit your fridge. Ask the right questions: 'Why do you have this stuff in here? Where’s the fiber in this?'" he said. "When you go to the local store, ask, 'Hey, where is the 100 percent whole grain? ... If you stock it, we'll buy it.' Now you're activists. ... That is the fundamental call for action for HealthCorps. With your help, we can make this a long-lasting, sustainable wave. We'll be able to brag about the fact that Louisiana is no longer top five in obesity. "