CSUN Uses Musical to Teach Children About Healthy Life Choices

The students in California State University, Northridge’s nutrition program have joined with former Rockette Helen Butleroff-Leahy to implement a unique musical designed to teach young people about the benefits of healthy eating and physical fitness.

“MyPlate! The New Food Guide Musical,” will make its official Los Angeles debut at 10:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 9, at Cantara Street Elementary School, 17950 Cantara St. in Reseda.

“We are honored and excited to have Helen teaching our children about healthy eating and physical education through this exciting innovative program,” said nutrition and dietetic professor Annette Besnilian, director of CSUN’s Dietetic Internship Program. “The children’s eyes light up when they see her and look forward to work with her. The children are having so much fun that they do not realize they are actually getting physically active and nutrition education. There is such a need to get children active and eating healthy. The rates of childhood obesity have been increasing, and targeting children early in the elementary schools is key to healthier lifestyles.

“The dramatic increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity, now being described as a pandemic — as well as the serious consequences of childhood obesity, including the health and financial burdens that transpire as a result — have prompted the need for broad interventions in order to address this public health issue,” Besnilian continued. “To further compound this issue, evidence indicates childhood obesity and unhealthy diets may also lead to poor academic performance in school. ‘MyPlate,’ the musical, is an innovative way to combat childhood obesity.”

Butleroff-Leahy, a registered dietitian and former Rockette, Broadway dancer, director and choreographer, flew from New York to spend the past few weeks working with students and faculty in the nutrition program in CSUN’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences to produce a musical that would convey the importance of healthy life choices to the elementary school students.

The program has already been performed in New York City more than 60 times. The May 9 performances will inaugurate its Los Angeles debut.

Tramaine Montell Ford, star of the Broadway production of “Hairspray,” has spent the past several weeks working with local teen dancers and Cantara third graders to prepare the play, which has been hailed by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! nutrition initiative for the creative way it promotes healthy eating and physical fitness.

The performance is sponsored by CSUN’s Let’s Cook and Move In Schools Program, which is designed to strengthen nutrition and physical education programs in the schools.