Using Hip Hop to Help Kids Get Healthy

Hip Hop Public Health is a nonprofit organization that uses hip hop music and other multimedia elements to teach kids in the inner city about health.

The organization’s flagship school program, Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. (Healthy Eating and Living in Schools), reached a major milestone at the start of June. Over the last year more than 7,000 students in New York City have participated in this program, one of five created by the organization. Also this year, the nonprofit received its third invitation to participate in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll to promote healthier lifestyles.

Hip Hop Public Health’s concert-style health education events have been performed in close to 50 cities across the United States and the programs have taught an estimated 44,000 students lessons on stroke, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

The nonprofit has even worked with the Partnership For a Healthier America, chaired by First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as with Dr. Oz, to create an album of songs that encourages kids to be active and healthy.

This unique approach to health education is the brainchild of Nigerian-born neurologist, Dr. Olajide Williams. Williams, 45, is the director of Acute Stroke Services at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He first heard LL Cool J on the radio while away at an English boarding school in the 1980s and has been a fan ever since.

When treating stroke patients in 2005 at Harlem Hospital, Dr. Williams became frustrated that so many didn’t know the early warning signs. So he launched a pilot program at several Harlem schools to teach children how to recognize the symptoms of stroke in older family members. With the help of hip hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh, the infectious beats and clever lyrics of hip hop music were used to get the message out about the rapid response needed when someone may be having a stroke.

The result, after several months, were reports of children remembering what was taught, calling 911 and ultimately saving lives. The success of the Hip Hop Stroke program prompted Dr. Williams to found Hip Hop Public Health.

He realized that this hip hop health model could work to teach children about many other diseases and conditions. Dr. Williams also believed that children could play a major role in the chain of health promotion and disease prevention by learning about healthy behaviors and sharing the information with parents and grandparents.

As Hip Hop Public Health approaches its 10-year anniversary, Dr. Williams says its goal is to have a meaningful impact in every inner city across America.

Watch Melissa Noel’s report in the video above, filmed by Kizzy Cox and Pearl Macek.

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