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Dr. William Olijade of Hip Hop Public Health and Doug Fresh, Noted Rapper and Record Producer, Share Some Insights

Posted 03/05/2015 | By HealthCorps

We decided to profile Hip Hop Public Health by asking Dr. William Olijade and Doug Fresh to share their thoughts on everything from the history of their organization and program, to why they valued creating a strong relationship with HealthCorps.

Dr. Olijade, what is your field of medical expertise and why did you become specifically concerned for kid’s health?

I am first and foremost a practicing neurologist with a subspecialty interest in stroke. I also have a degree from the Mailman School of Public Health. But what is clear to all of us who treat patients is that our ability to prevent disease from within the confines of our hospitals is limited. We need to journey beyond, into the public domain, and begin to address prevention before risk behaviors lead to risk factors, and risk factors lead to disease. Risk-inducing behaviors tend to begin in childhood when kids are making specific food choices (or not), and exercise habits are beginning to form, and kids begin making independent choices. Starting with young children was a no brainer for me.

Dr. Olijade, how did you choose the name Hip Hop Health and what was the evolution of the program, and specifically the musical element? How long has the program been available?

The first program I developed was Hip Hop Stroke. I developed it in partnership with the National Stroke Association in 2005/2006. We needed a vehicle for addressing the rapid response needed when stroke symptoms strike the unsuspecting, which is to immediately call 911. We thought we could address this by creating an army of stroke-prepared potential witnesses within high stroke risk communities, since it is those who witness a stroke occurring, that most often drive the response to it, and not those experiencing it. It turns out that children are increasingly present in the homes of those at risk for stroke – childbearing is being delayed until couples are older, there are many single parent households, and more at-risk grandparents are living with young children. We also thought that introducing stroke to children was an opportunity to teach them how to prevent it altogether, through healthy eating, exercise, and never smoking. But how do you get children excited about stroke? Our answer was music. And in the communities we were targeting, hip hop music. Doug E Fresh was the artist I recruited to work on the stroke program with me.

Owing to the success of Hip Hop Stroke, I founded Hip Hop Public Health with help from Doug E Fresh with the goal of translating our hip hop model to other content areas beginning with childhood obesity.

(I asked Doug E Fresh) How did a rapper, record producer and beatboxer, get inspired to get involved, and why is this program is so important to you personally?

(Doug E Fresh) I have always been interested in health and I am a vegetarian myself. I had also done some work using hip hop music to educate children with Scholastic, so when Dr. Williams came knocking, and he and I connected the way we did, I felt that what we were about to do together and the way we wanted to do it, was overdue.

Dr. Olijade, are there any other artists you’ve engaged in Hip Hop Health and can you share why they were specifically interested in participating? 

Easy AD from the Cold Crush Brothers (one of the pioneering hip-hop groups) is a founding trainer for Hip Hop Public Health and Artie Green, a multi-platinum producer, formerly with Murder Inc. is our music director.

Chuck D and DMC from RunDMC are on our advisory board and have both written songs for the mission and starred in our animated cartoon features. But we have also worked with a variety of artists from multiple genres including Ariana Grande, Matisyahu, Travis Barker, Jordin Sparks, and many others. I am very grateful to all the artists who have donated and continue to donate their talents. They do it for free because they believe in our mission and our methods.

Dr. Olijade, what are the goals of the program?

Our main goal is to end health illiteracy among low-income minority communities where this problem has become an epidemic that steals too many lives. The conditions we currently target are Obesity, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Through our health literacy focused entertainment education interventions we also target behavior change by increasing skills and self-efficacy for engaging in our target behaviors.

Dr. Olijade, can you guide us through the website elements and how parents and kids can use the website to benefit from the information.

We have two websites – a kids’ specific site and a general site. The kids’ site is where the main action is. Kids and their parents need to generate a user name and password in our “Check in” page, which takes less than a minute and does not require any personal information to acquire. Once logged in, they can visit our “Check this” page where they will find live music videos, animated features, video games, comic books, and three music albums, all of which are designed to entertain and educate, and get kids and their families up and moving. Included also is a 10-minute interactive exercise video designed specifically for working out. Examples of the videos include – Go Slow Whoa, which teaches the traffic light model for food selection, and Hip Hop FEET (finding exercise energy thresholds) which teaches kids how to find their anaerobic threshold during exercise.

Dr. Olijade, can you talk a bit about the 5th grade student advisory, and do you believe that “peer-to-peer” has great relevance in impacting kid’s health?

Without our 5th-grade student advisory board we would not be cool and certainly not as effective as we have been. Peer-to-peer is a powerful way to impact kids’ health, and our advisory board has helped inform program development and even research design.

Dr. Olijade, how are you impacting parents’ decisions with regards to their children’s health and welfare?

A few points: 1) Lives have been saved by participating children who have recognized and called 911 for stroke when grandparents have experienced stroke symptoms, and there was indecision by parents about what to do. 2) Parents have reported that food purchasing decisions have been positively influenced by their participating kids through their “pester power.” 3) Parents have reported being influenced by their kids to go to the doctor to get a check-up.

Dr. Olijade, what is the current reach of this program, what issues in the kid’s health arena concern you, and can you comment on specific successes of your program?

We have 80 representatives in 60 U.S. cities and 8 countries since we started an expansion phase one year ago. We have visited over 150 schools to date and 44,000 children have participated in our programming in N.Y.C. alone, since 2008. We currently reach about 7000 kids per year.

I am concerned about the lack of resources in our public school systems – specifically gym resources, play-spaces, the challenge of healthy nutrition for poor students, and the rolling back of school health gains made over the last few years.

How did you come to partner with Dr. Oz and HealthCorps?

Dr. Oz is a colleague of mine at Columbia University/New York Presbyterian Hospital. He is a good friend and has always supported my work. We first collaborated back in 2007 within the context of a Faith-Based Initiative I help lead with Mrs. Patricia Butts, First Lady of Abyssinian Baptist Church. That was also around the time that I first learned about HealthCorps and was extremely impressed by its mission and methods. Dr. Oz was also a big part of our recent collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America – a multi-genre musical compilation featuring several notable artists called Songs for a Healthier America, and where Dr. Oz and I rapped on the bridge of a song called “Everybody” that featured Jordin Sparks and Doug E Fresh.

Dr. Olijade, how can HealthCorps and Hip Hop Public Health have a maximal impact in years to come?

My one phrase solution is system-driven collaboration. I believe that by leveraging HealthCorps coordinators, we can create a hybrid model with Hip Hop Public Health tools, and deliver this synergy in a systematic fashion to schools around the country, while integrating metrics for measuring pre-specified outcomes.

You can also view Hip Hop Public health videos on YouTube

-Amy Hendel, PA/HealthCoach

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