The New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative is an exemplar for organizational cross-collaboration. The academic and research arms of Rutgers University and the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) division are working together to merge health with health care. Scientists and community leaders, pediatricians and parents, college professors and pre-school teachers –are joining forces to make the programming of the NJHKI successful. The Center for Childhood Nutrition Education and Research (CCNER) at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health (IFNH) is the centralized institution that makes this collaboration possible. The Culture of Health Academy (CHA) is the conduit delivering Rutgers’ research efforts to the local community.
The CHA is a preschool enrolling youth ages three to five, operated in conjunction with the CCNER and the Rutgers Psychology Child Development Center. Set in an engaging classroom environment that includes a working kitchen, children learn from a curriculum that fosters learning in the areas of nutrition and healthy cooking. A thoughtfully designed outdoor playground supports physical activity and energetic play. The school is located inside the modern IFNH building on the George H. Cook Campus, which recently made the list of New Jersey’s 25 Must-See Buildings.
CHCA students are learning just a few feet away from some of the fully visible glass-walled labs where top-tier Rutgers scientists conduct innovative gut microbiome and lipid studies. Scarlet Knights from the various Rutgers athletic programs can be found exercising at the IFNH Center for Health and Human Performance a couple of floors above the school. These athletes and the kinesiology professionals who train them can provide mentorship opportunities in physical education for CHA students and school-aged kids visiting the campus. Through carefully studied and inclusively applied research, the NJHKI reaches at-risk children at an age when positive lifestyle habits are forming.