By DAVID CRUMM
It was all in a day’s work for the broccoli-shaped superhero Regie, who left a crowd in Detroit savoring the flavors of colorful fruits and vegetables—and pondering the rich role that food plays in our lives. Regie—both in a 6-foot-tall costumed version and in the form of a 1-foot-tall plush puppet—had top billing as the star of the show. But, a Michigan state senator who appeared with Regie, and told his own story of a life-long struggle with diabetes, clearly won the hearts of the crowd.
Thanking Regie for his expanding campaign to encourage healthy eating, state Sen. Morris W. Hood III, the minority leader in Michigan’s senate, told the crowd about keeping a Regie puppet handy in his Lansing office.
“It gets everybody talking, like: What is this puppet? It’s a great way to introduce other senators—and others who are in Lansing—to this important program,” Hood said.
In fact, that’s the green superhero’s true power, Hood said.
“Regie gets people talking about the foods we eat,” he said. “Regie starts the conversation about healthy living. One of the biggest preventive measures we can have is Regie’s Rainbow Adventure in our communities.”
Hood feels so strongly about the public health value of the Regie program, which was created by the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM), that he wrote the preface for NKFM’s new book, called: Regie’s Rainbow Adventure—National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s nutrition education program for disease prevention in the early childcare setting (available in paperback and Kindle versions).
In his preface, Hood writes: “Each child’s life is the beginning of our future. In our world today, we could find ourselves distracted by the many obstacles we face and we could forget about the health and education of our children. But, we cannot let that happen. Early childhood education and health go hand in hand in raising children to reach their full potential. We know that their success is truly our success as they become our next generation of leaders. If we give our children a strong and healthy head start now, they will help us build a better world.”
Linda Smith-Wheelock, COO of NKFM, appeared with Hood and other speakers at the event to celebrate the expansion of the Regie program from serving about 12,000 children currently—to about 24,000 over the coming year. “As the prevalence of obesity in children increases, so does the rate of type 2 diabetes, which is a leading cause of kidney failure. One in three children who were born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime,” Smith-Wheelock writes in the new book.
Hood told the crowd about the life-long challenges of living with diabetes, including his own kidney-transplant surgery last year. That’s why he’s thrilled to pull out his Regie puppet and playfully challenge people to become allies of this program.
“We have to introduce healthy lifestyles at a very young age,” Hood told the audience. “I don’t want children to have to go through what I’ve gone through for 42 years.”
Monica Easterling, who manages nutrition programs for the New St. Paul Tabernacle Head Start program in Detroit, has been involved with the Regie program for the past six years. She contributed to the new book and spoke at the Detroit event. “Senator Hood is right. When you want to change behavior you have to look to the group where we can have the most influence—and that’s in early childhood. Childhood obesity is a major problem in America today. … The whole Regie curriculum encourages an active, healthy lifestyle.”
The lessons are memorable as each colorful Regie picture book is read aloud—and teachers encourage children to taste equally colorful bites of fruits and vegetables along with their superhero. “Children love these stories—so much so that a lot of children memorize the stories. They want to hear them again and again,” Easterling said.
As Regie convinces children to taste the colorful new foods with their teachers in the classroom, that excitement inspires healthy conversations at home, said Debra Foreman, who works with Easterling and oversees the Head Start classrooms.
“When we bring Regie into our classrooms, we are not just touching 47 children—we are touching their 47 households with new ideas about eating different fruits and vegetables,” Foreman said. “When you teach the children, you teach the parents through the children who go home and start telling the story of Regie—and start asking questions about what they can eat—and what they can grow.”
Those conversations lead to action, she said. “I’m hearing about parents who are creating gardens at home, now.”
The celebration of Regie’s Rainbow Adventure was held Friday June 2, 2017, in Detroit. As this program expands, NKFM encourages parents, educators and community leaders nationwide to read the new book and contact the NKFM staff about ideas for expanding Regie’s reach.