HealthCorps was designed in 2003 as a 10-month pilot in partnership with Columbia Presbyterian Hospital as a response to “Healthy People 2010” - an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to advance a nationwide disease prevention agenda that included fighting childhood obesity. As a result, cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and his wife, Lisa, founded the educational program based upon the pilot under the auspices of the Foundation for Advanced Cardiac Therapies (“FACT”), a Palm Beach, Florida-based 501c3 organization.
In 2004, HealthCorps launched a lunchtime workshop, at George Washington Educational Campus in Washington Heights, New York, led by “HealthCorps Coordinators” – recent college graduates with an interest in health careers who serve as peer-mentors. These Coordinators were trained and supervised by staff from the Touro College Children's Health Education Foundation. A second school, Cathedral High School in Manhattan, was added to the pilot in 2005. By 2006, the HealthCorps network grew to six schools in New York City as well as the Academy of the New Church in Pennsylvania and Cliffside Park and North Bergen High Schools in New Jersey.
HealthCorps chose youth as its major focus in order to maximize the impact of its programming. Teenagers are often: significant family purchase influencers, family caregivers and autonomous buyers with some expendable income. They also have great capacity to influence a large network of peers.
Creating Living Labs & First Written Curriculum
2007, HealthCorps embarked on a national rollout, extending its health education and mentoring program to 36 schools, including 29 in New York City, two in New Jersey, one in Florida, and one in Pennsylvania. In the same year, the organization incorporated as a 501(c)3 in New York under its own name “HealthCorps, Inc.” and closed out the Florida-based 501(c)3, FACT. By this time all Coordinators were expected to serve full-time, five days a week during the school year teaching both in and out of the classroom. HealthCorps realized that along with delivering curriculum, the program its network of schools served as a unique opportunity for discovery of how best to communicate with and understand teens, identify best practices for behavioral change and identify effective regional, state and federal school policy. Thus, the name “Living Labs”.
To meet the demands of a thriving program, HealthCorps staff and Board members developed the first written curriculum - combining lessons created by the original nine coordinators with content from the YOU™ book series authored by HealthCorps Chairman Dr. Mehmet Oz and Advisory Board Member Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic.
Ongoing Curriculum Enhancements
Since 2008, as HealthCorps continued to expand into more schools across the US, the curriculum has been regularly enhanced and updated. HealthCorps staff, board members, and coordinators are vital to curriculum creation and have edited lessons based on their expertise or practical experiences in the classroom. In order to further enhance the curriculum components, HealthCorps partners and has partnered with evidence-based programs such as Teen Battle Chef from FamilyCook Productions, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Sahaja Meditation, Hawn Foundation and Cooking Matters.
Through the HealthCorps curriculum evolution, emphasis is increasingly placed on, students developing knowledge as well as skills. Research has demonstrated that developing skills is key to supporting behavioral changes for all ages.
The core curriculum is comprised of an introduction to the program and its methodology followed by fourteen lessons broken into four units that focus on skill for:
- A Healthy Mind
- Healthy Eating
- A Healthy Body
- A Healthy YOU (self-care)
Also included is a supplemental library of approximately sixteen lessons on healthy living for use at the facilitator’s discretion.
Coordinators lead lessons both in and out of the classroom, as well as after school through clubs (e.g. cooking, fitness and youth empowerment) and other activities.
On the individual level, the curriculum and activities are intended to build resilience and leadership skills as well as raise awareness of healthy behaviors and foster positive change. On the school and community level, HealthCorps programs are intended to promote positive changes to the environment and to policy – and to ultimately be absorbed into the culture of the community.
Activism and experiential learning are an important aspect of HealthCorps programming. Students plan and participate in school-wide and community extracurricular activities such as health fairs, walking contests, staff development seminars, gardening, food demonstrations, service projects and much more. HealthCorps activities challenge students to share the knowledge and skills they have learned with their friends, families and communities and to change their world for the better. School and community-wide activities are interspersed throughout the school year as a part of the HealthCorps experience to enhance lessons taught in the classroom.
Each HealthCorps Living Lab also partners with mission-aligned organizations on a local level such as MD Anderson Cancer Institute’s ASPIRE Program (Houston, TX, 2013 - 2016) and The Sacramento Food Bank (Sacramento, CA, 2010).
Creation of HealthCorps University
In 2013, in response to requests from educators for training in the curriculum, HealthCorps piloted a secondary professional development program called “HealthCorps University” in California with the Sacramento Unified School District. The program was chosen as one of twelve to receive pro bono consulting services to affirm its efficacy as a part of the Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge.
Scaling the Programs
By this time the Living Labs program had expanded to 62 schools across 13 states and the District of Columbia. The organization also established a partnership with CK12.org to provide a free digitalized version of its curriculum so schools without HealthCorps programming could still benefit from the organizations discoveries.
In 2016, the HealthCorps Board and staff made the strategic decision to cap the Living Labs around the country to no more than 20-30 schools in order to focus on upscaling its outreach through HealthCorps University. Effective techniques and best practices in the Living Labs continue to inform the HealthCorps University program. Since its inception in 2003, through both its programs, HealthCorps University and the Living Labs have impacted approximately two million students. 261 young people have served as Coordinators the majority of whom have gone on to medical school. 144 high schools across America have served as Living Labs.
Current Curriculum Edition
This 5th edition of the HealthCorps curriculum has been significantly enhanced as the result of a research project begun in 2013 in partnership with the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and Family Cook Productions. The project was funded by the National Institute of Health (“NIH”) through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (“NIDKK”). One of the key project objectives is to disseminate the USDA Dietary Guidelines for adolescents and utilize student leaders to share skill-based strategies for adhering to them to make these healthy behaviors more socially desirable among youth. This was accomplished in part by designing a personal health reflection survey, that is conducted online, that results in a personalized assessment: “Healthy Me Snapshot” (HMS) for each student participant. The HMS identifies which Dietary Guideline(s) a given student should prioritize to improve and supports students to target this behavior by setting specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely (“SMART”) goals. This assessment and goal-setting system has now been incorporated into this edition of the HealthCorps curriculum and eight of the core lessons focus on Dietary Guidelines.
For purposes of evaluation and/or research, Coordinators in Living Lab schools around the country deliver Chapter 2 and administer the Healthy Me Snapshot survey to students prior to administering Chapters 3 through 6. Coordinators administer the Healthy Me Reflection exercise to students after they have participated in the Core Curriculum Units (Chapters 2 – 6). This specific delivery of the HealthCorps Chapters and units is called the “Healthy Me Journey.” Each unit of the core curriculum relies on the performance indicators of the National Health Education Standards2 and the Characteristics of Effective Health Education3, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most students participate in the chapter units on a weekly basis over the course of a semester.
The supplemental lessons (Chapters 8-12) are administered at the discretion of a Coordinator and according to a school’s specific needs. This new edition includes new modules on organ donation education and diabetes prevention.
Evaluation and Research
To date, research and program evaluation conducted and funded by Affinity Health Plans4, the NIH/NIDKK/Albert Einstein School of Medicine5, HealthCorps and the Desert Healthcare Foundation6 have demonstrated that weekly participation in HealthCorps through the curriculum is associated with increased physical activity, self-confidence, consumption of fruit, vegetables and water and decreased consumption of soda. Research and evaluation have also shown that HealthCorps is significantly impactful working with other non-profit programming partners to enhance their outcomes (FamilyCook Productions7, MD Anderson Cancer Institute8). Evaluating the quantitative and qualitative effects of both the HealthCorps Living Labs and HealthCorps University programs is an ongoing process aimed at ensuring greater impact into the future.
1 See Chapter 12 for more detail
2 See Chapter 13: Appendices
3 See Chapter 13: Appendices
4 “Effect of HealthCorps, a High School Peer Mentoring Program, on Youth Diet and Physical Activity”, Childhood Obesity, 2011, John Cawley, PhD
5 “Behaviors and Knowledge of HealthCorps New York City High School Students: Nutrition, Mental Health, and Physical Activity”, Journal of School Health, 2015, Moonseong Heo, PhD
6 “Impact of HealthCorps Program in the Western & Eastern Coachella Valley”, Evaluation Report for Desert HealthCare, Joanne Stevelos, MPH
7 “Efficacy of Teen Battle Chef program to shift the Academic Performance and Health Behaviors in NYC High School Students”, Abstract, AHA Scientific Session, 2014, Hyunwoo Park, MS
8 “The Role of a Mentor and Champion in Implementing ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience)”, Abstract, National Tobacco or Health Conference, Austin 2016, Alexander Prokhorov, MD, PhD