A man I had never met before was sitting in front of me waiting patiently, when my father spoke. “This is my colleague, Stuart, from the American Heart Association. Stuart, this is my daughter, Lara, whom you will interview today,” he explained.
“So, Lara, tell me more about you,” asked Stuart.
“My name is Lara Asch. I’m a fifth-grader at Sidwell Friends School, and I have high cholesterol,” I responded, glancing nervously at my father. My father nodded calmly.
The scene above took place about a year ago when I began working with the American Heart Association (AHA). I had recently found out that I have high cholesterol, and I had to make some very hard choices after learning the health risks and about the effects of my diet at the time. I memorized what I needed to see on nutrition labels and what was not good for my condition. Did you know that in one 12-ounce (Tall) Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, there are 41 grams of carbohydrates? And that all of them are sugars? This is not good for anyone, but for me and others like me, it’s dangerous. I learned that the safe food options have a maximum of two grams of saturated fats and ten grams of sugars per portion. Each portion also should have a minimum of six grams of fiber. I went to the grocery store with my parents and realized that so many foods in the aisles did not fit that description.
The AHA is an international organization with a mission focused on the prevention of heart attack and stroke, which are the main causes of death in our society. And the main causes of heart attacks and strokes are unhealthy diets and high cholesterol. The AHA was very interested in my story as I am not the only kid struggling with high cholesterol, and so Stuart came to interview me and learn more. Later an article about me and my choices about food was published on the AHA website and posted on their social media accounts.
Ever since the first article was published, I have been helping the AHA empower kids of all ages to make healthy food choices and avoid sugary drinks and junk food. I am also working on convincing all schools, both public and private, to take up the Kids Heart Challenge, which is a fun event that gets kids to be more active. Kids learn about their health and their heart and raise funds for the AHA. It prepares kids for success through improved physical and emotional well-being.
Of all the Quaker SPICES (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship), community is the one that resonates with me the most. Being in a community means caring for others and sharing knowledge to increase awareness for what you think is right. In the Sidwell Friends Community, we all have each other’s backs and we help each other when in need. My communities are my friends, my street, my school, the city I live in, the countries I am from, and the community of kids around the world. In each of these communities, the challenge of having healthy foods is different. With the AHA I am working on increasing public awareness about the importance of providing healthy food choices in D.C. Public Schools.
Over the fall and winter, many more schools joined the Kids Heart Challenge, and sugary drinks and sodas are becoming less and less popular. I am proud to be a small part of the big movement and important change. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is a quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. In this case, it can be interpreted as a big change beginning with a single small change. The big change is the need for healthy food for everyone, and the small change is me going from eating a juicy burger and sugary snacks to choosing leafy greens and colorful plates. I hope to continue to see more progress with kids having healthier diets and being more active.
Read more: Student Voices Project 2020