Professor, grad use health entertainment to battle childhood obesity in Little Rock

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor and alumnus are using health entertainment and education to fight childhood obesity in Little Rock.

This fall, Dr. Avinash Thombre, professor of applied communication, and Philip Bryant Sr., a 2016 graduate of the applied communication program, received a $1,000 grant through The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.

They used the money to put on a pilot childhood obesity pilot program that utilizes entertainment education to emphasize the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. During the month of October, Thombre and Bryant hosted one-hour workshops in the aftercare program of three schools in the Little Rock School District, where the students have a combined student BMI (Body Mass Index) of 40 or more.

Thombre and Bryant gave presentations to about 100 students at David O. Dodd Elementary School, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and Brady Elementary School. Thombre played “Dr. Hombre,” while Bryant, 72, of Little Rock, played “Dr. Feelgood.”

“My research is about diffusing new ideas, especially in the health arena,” Thombre said. “How can we take new ideas and diffuse them in society to bring about change? We have this issue of childhood obesity in Arkansas. One of my former students, Philip Bryant, wrote a jingle about promoting fruits and vegetables. He is very animated around kids. The kids all started singing along. The kids asked a lot of questions, and they just loved it. This is the way we think we can bring about a community change.”

Bryant said he was inspired to write a song to encourage healthy eating in children after seeing many instances where parents are feeding their children junk food.

“I’m a writer of poetry, poems, song, prose, and short stories,” Bryant said. “When I see a need, it seems like after I dwell on it for a time, then I write about. I see so many people raising their young children and not feeding them enough fruits and vegetables. I feel that these children are going to end up with diabetes and poor health in the future. That gave me the energy to write a song.”

Dr. Avinash Thombre (left), professor of applied communication, and Philip Bryant Sr. (right), a 2016 graduate of the applied communication program, received a $1,000 grant through The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.
Dr. Avinash Thombre (left), professor of applied communication, and Philip Bryant Sr. (right), a 2016 graduate of the applied communication program, received a $1,000 grant through The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.

The song, called “Veggies and Fruits,” begins with a call to eat healthier. It can also be viewed online.

“My name is Dr. Feelgood and listen to what I have to say,” the song begins. “I am going to tell you what you must do every day. Each your veggies and eat your fruits, because these are the foods that are healthy for you. Now diabetes used to be just for old folks, but teenagers and young children are getting it, and that’s no joke.”

In the second half of the workshop, Thombre talked about the problems associated with being obese, including diabetes, hypertension, and kidney failure. He also spoke about his personal cultural background of growing up eating healthy and staying healthy.

Thombre and Bryant used the grant money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for the children to eat. After another round of songs with Bryant, the students tried fresh produce like apples, carrots, grapes, oranges, broccoli, celery, and asparagus.

“This project is a message to educate people all over America,” Bryant said. “Each individual person can do a better job of taking care of their own health. Stop eating things that taste good and start eating things that do good for the human body.”

After the success of the pilot workshops, Thombre and Bryant are looking to expand the program to spread the message to a larger audience. They have already received workshop requests from other schools, churches, and community organizations.

“From every angle, it feels like a good way to keep our students involved in the program, to do something for the community at large, and to help the children,” Thombre said. “In the future, I think the students from my health communication classes can get involved. I’ve done other promotions, but I think this has been the most fun because it has a jingle. It’s heartening to know that the kids are loving this. There are other groups who are needing this message disseminated on a larger scale. We need to do more of these things so that we can curb childhood obesity before it becomes even more of a major issue like the opioid crisis.”

In the upper right photo, Philip Bryant Sr. (Dr. Feelgood) had diagnosed this tomato as a healthy food choice! Photo by Ben Krain. 

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