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Smart design + school = healthy kids

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Designer Dina Sorensen and pediatrician Dr. Matthew Trowbridge talk about collaborating across disciplines to renovate an elementary school in Buckingham County, Va. that now encourages students to eat healthy and exercise. (Meena Ganesan/The Washington Post)
Pediatrician Matthew Trowbridge and designer Dina Sorensen at The Washington Post’s Health Beyond Health Care forum June 18. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post)

“We’ve decided the built environment is really important for public health.

“The idea of using the classroom and the design of a building to promote better learning, to encourage certain types of social interaction is well-established. The idea, of course, was to [use design] for health promotion.

“We met with the children, the teachers and the staff when they were in their older building. What we really focused on was the culture of health in the building. And what we were able to see is that after they moved into the new building, the kids themselves reported that they feel more supported in terms of engaging in physical activity and that healthy eating is a bigger part of their day. We also see teachers are producing more childhood obesity-relevant initiatives.”

-Matthew Trowbridge, assistant professor, University of Virginia School of Medicine

“Architects don’t talk health. We don’t use health promotion or health-enhancing language typically. Thinking about architecture as an intervention was really new and different.

“[Our aim was to] see the school environment through the lens of childhood obesity and some of the challenges that kids face very early on and connecting that back to space.

“One of our very simple revelations was that the old paradigm of the school cafeteria needed to alter. One of the biggest moves we made was to open it up. It’s an open kitchen, and functions more like a demonstration kitchen. They’re surrounded by nature.

“One of the most compelling aspects of that space is that you feel like you’re outside.

“We really focused on what kids need. What I see in that space are kids gravitating to that atmosphere because they know it’s for them, about them. Everything is tailored to their needs.”

-Dina Sorensen, project designer, VMDO Architects


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