As a pediatrician, Kevin Strong has seen children grow obese before they’re old enough to enter kindergarten. He worried about their health, about their self esteem, about their futures.
Now he’s doing something more than worry.
Strong, a pediatric hospitalist at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, has created Dunk the Junk, a nonprofit organization and hip hop-filled, graffiti-covered campaign to encourage kids to drop soda and junk food in favor of fruits, vegetables and other healthy fare.
“If you get (children’s) attention and then you show them what’s being done, like with processed food, they get pretty fired up and motivated,” he said.
Strong came up with the idea for Dunk the Junk — dunk as in basketball and junk as in junk food — last year. By summer the Camden resident and father of three had formed a nonprofit and joined with Portland graffiti artist Mike Rich to create the group’s logo and food characters, including Psycho Fruit Roll Up and Fizz the soda.
The goal: teach young people that junk food is bad for them, but do it in a fun, kid-friendly way. For Strong that means lots of graffiti and lots of hip hop music with lyrics like, “Could you please pass the peas” and “It’s your court, it’s your game, eat real.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “I see it turning into something where we go to cities all over the country.”
Strong plans to bring his message to older kids and teenagers through schools and social media. For younger children he’s self-published an ABC book. Illustrated by a local artist and co-written by Strong and his brother, a graduate fellowship advisor and lecturer in English at Bates College in Lewiston, the book shows animals eating healthy foods and encourages young children to eat those foods, too.
Strong held his first official school launch Friday at the Camden-Rockport Middle School. He’ll launch the program nationally next week at an elementary school in Atlanta. That event will feature a party-like atmosphere with rappers, graffiti demonstrations and a visit by Dominique Wilkins, dunking superstar and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Strong said CNN is expected to be there as well.
So far, Strong has used his own money to support Dunk the Junk. He hopes the sale of logo posters, T-shirts and the children’s book will bring in enough money for him to keep the campaign going long-term.
“By using graffiti art and hip hop and social media, and making it exciting to kids, you get their attention, you get them motivated,” Strong said. “And then you teach them.”
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