Young leaders hope to help make their communities healthier

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Some young southern Arizonans are learning how to be ambassadors for healthy living.

The idea is to lead by example.

Some 100 youth and adult leaders attended the "Teen Healthy Lifestyles Summit" in Tucson Tuesday.

4-H Arizona says it's part of "Eat4-Health," a partnership between 4-H and UnitedHealthcare.

The high school students screamed down zip lines and walked across beams more than 40 feet in the air, challenging themselves at the 4-H High Ropes Course.

The students met the challenges and are taking that confidence and their growing leadership skills back to their communities to help make them healthier.

"It makes me feel brave, I guess, because I didn't know I could do something like that," says Sunnyside High School freshman Lesley Galaviz who had completed several of the course challenges.

The students are from Pima and Cochise Counties and they challenged themselves in many different ways.

"They made me try some zucchini, eggplant, asparagus and bell peppers and they were pretty good to try them for the first time," says Desert View High School senior Gabriela Alvarado.

So, what do all of those physical challenges have to do with eating your vegetables?

These teenagers, even the pickiest eaters, are learning valuable lessons in healthy eating.

The physical challenges are giving them the confidence and the leadership skills to lead their schools and their own families to eat a better diet.

"Many people just like to eat junk food, but I think if these kinds of food were promoted, there would be a better lifestyle, healthier for everybody," says Douglas High School junior Juan Carlos Martinez.

And that's exactly what these young people will be.

They will promote a healthier lifestyle now that they know they actually do like vegetables.

Plus, now that they have conquered a few fears, learned some problem-solving and team- building techniques, they know how to encourage their friends and their families.

"I'm going to tell my mom that zucchini is not as bad as she thinks it is," says Desert View High School freshman Jose Celis.

4-H Youth Development Agent Elizabeth Sparks says the summit promotes peer-to-peer interaction.

"Learning from each other and learning about themselves on the high rope course, learning nutrition and other activities here in a really safe, fun way," Sparks says. "We are teaching them to be healthy living ambassadors."

A little teamwork. A little encouragement. It's amazing how far it can take you.

"Yeah. It might look fun and like a playground, but actually it's telling you to be a better person in your life. Just because you have fears, just keep going and keep going with it," says Desert View High School senior Maria Chanez.

"It just helps a lot to know that there's people that are helping you and encouraging you, and just helping you face your own fears," says Desert View High School junior Arianna Escobar.

These young people are now 4-H Young Ambassadors for Healthy Choices.

Arizona 4-H, the University of Arizona and United Healthcare sponsored this event.

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