Continuing a Legacy of Health Education and Awareness

you could say Sabrina Plattner, MEdhas health and wellness in its DNA.

Plattner, senior health educator at Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, raised in Tucson, the daughter of Heather and David Alberts, MD. His father joined the College of Medicine – Tucson in 1975 and a year later helped found the UArizona Cancer Center, where he developed one of the best national cancer prevention and control programs. He was center director from 2005 to 2013 and created the skin cancer institute in 2006. Regents Professor and Director Emeritus, he retired in 2015.

Plattner’s mother, Heather, founded Better than ever, a fitness and fundraising program designed to help make walking, running or biking a daily life. The program raised funds to support the Cancer Center’s research and clinical trials with a focus on breast and gynecological cancers. A former college teacher, Heather has worked tirelessly to promote health and fitness and championed equity for women in STEM. In 1978, she started the New Frontiers program with funding from the Arizona Department of Education. New Frontiers provided positive educational programs to encourage the exploration of non-traditional careers for young women, including in the health sciences.

With parents like that, it was almost inevitable that Plattner would pursue a career in health and wellness. Today, her job is to develop a nutrition, fitness and wellness program, related programs and community initiatives to prevent childhood obesity in Tucson. She does this not only as part of the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at Zuckerman College of Public Health, but also in collaboration with institutions and organizations across the country.

Plattner’s efforts include the College of Public Health’s Tucson Healthy Schools, a partnership with area schools to provide health and wellness classes to children. Locally, she is co-president of Enable Tucsona position she shares with Annemarie Medina, MBA, director of corporate and community relations for UArizona Health Sciences. Activate Tucson is an advocacy coalition that brings together area agencies, groups, and individuals dedicated to health and wellness in Southern Arizona.

Activate Tucson and its Tucson Child Health Task Force are stakeholder partners in the Catalyzing Communities to Prevent Obesity initiative, a national study led by Tufts University in Boston. The initiative aims to prevent childhood obesity and foster healthy communities in 10 cities, including Tucson.

Plattner is humble about his involvement, but proud of the legacy behind it.

“My parents were very involved in prevention in the field of health and well-being,” she said. “My upbringing stayed with me as a young adult and stayed with me throughout my life.”

Help children establish healthy habits

Plattner earned his master’s degree in elementary education and health promotion at Lesley University, near Boston, after completing his undergraduate studies at Northern Arizona University. She made her UArizona debut in 2004 with Healthy Kids Arizonaa health, wellness and disease prevention program focused on nutrition, physical activity and sun protection.

Healthy Schools Tucson courses developed in Public Health Courses Taught by Plattner are tailored to address childhood obesity and include topics on nutrition, healthy eating, body image, and stress management.  The pilot program took place at St. Peter and Paul School.

Through Healthy Children Arizona, a partnership between the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the UArizona Cancer Center, she met her supervisor and mentor Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RDN, a professor emeritus with leadership positions at the center and both colleges. During the 10 years that Plattner worked for Healthy Children Arizona, she coordinated outreach to elementary, middle and high schools, reaching approximately 25,000 students.

Then she joined the Pima Council on Aging, where she oversaw CATCH Healthy Habits. The national program fights obesity by engaging adults ages 50 and older as volunteers and mentors to teach lifelong healthy habits to children in kindergarten through 5th grade. In 2016 Plattner returned to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Arizona Cooperative Extension to coordinate the Arizona Health Zoneformerly known as the Arizona Nutrition Network and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed).

“I used to look at my mom and think, ‘Wow, she’s got a really cool job. I never thought I would do similar work with a slightly different scale, but here I am. I like what I do.”Sabrina Plattner, MEd

Two years later, she joined Dr. Thomson at the College of Public Health’s Zuckerman Family Health Promotion and Prevention Center lead the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative. The initiative, funded by Frank Marcus, MDa College of Medicine – Tucson Professor Emeritus and former Chief of Cardiology, includes Healthy Schools Tucson and wild marathon runners.

In early 2020, 1,100 students from four area elementary schools participated in the Wildcat Marathoners, organized by Cooperative Extension and Southern Arizona Roadrunners (SAR). The program encouraged schoolchildren to log miles at recess to achieve half-marathon or full-marathon distances of 13.1 or 26.2 miles. Participating students were invited to the fun FitKidz 1-Mile SAR Run on the UArizona Mall, and all students who ran at least 12.1 miles during the program received a red superhero cape after running their last mile on campus.

“The cape has a big UArizona emblem on it, and the kids love it,” Plattner said, adding that 112 students received capes in 2020. “In fact, 17 kids, ages 5 to 14, showed up at the Thanksgiving cross-country race in Reid Park last fall. Other kids and parents asked about the capes. They thought they were so cool. They all wanted them!

Wildcat marathoners went on hiatus during the pandemic, but were virtually revived in the fall of 2021 thanks to the Primavera Foundation Las Abuelitas Afterschool Program. Plattner said she hopes to restart Wildcat Marathoners in-person events after the pandemic.

Combining education and awareness

UArizona students enrolled in two of Plattner’s courses, “Public Health for Community Wellness” and “Public Health for School and Community Based Childhood Obesity Prevention Programming,” design courses for college students as part of Healthy Schools Tucson. Core lessons focus on fitness and nutrition using the United States Department of Agriculture My plate and Diet and Physical Activity Guidelines. Other lessons, such as “Sugar Busters,” “Portion Distortion,” and “Me, Myself & I,” target things to avoid (sodas, candies, and other sweets), rethink (overeat), or reframe (image of healthy body shape and size). ) for a more positive view.

Wildcat Marathoners is a component of Plattner's programming through the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative.  Elementary students can earn a hero cape by logging the miles they run or walk during recess.

Lessons also cover social media and moderating screen time, the dangers of smoking and vaping, and self-care when under stress. The stress lesson, which was developed first, focuses on COVID-19, explaining what it is and the science behind social distancing, masking, testing and vaccines.

“Stress plays a huge role in disease, mental health and obesity,” Plattner said, adding that the effects of stress have been magnified during the pandemic. “The stress lesson was developed to mitigate misinformation and reduce children’s anxiety at this time.”

All lessons were created to be culturally relevant to Tucson’s diverse population. They are taught at St. Peter and Paul School with plans to expand to other schools in the future.

“I feel very fortunate that these childhood obesity initiatives that I helped start and create continued to grow during the pandemic, when almost everything was virtual and online,” Plattner said. “What’s really great about the Healthy Schools Tucson program is that we stay relevant with the kids on the current issues that are happening in their lives.”

Then Plattner, Dr. Thomson and Jennifer Bea, PhDco-director of the Body Composition Lab at the UArizona Collaboratory for the Prevention and Treatment of Metabolic Diseases, plan to expand a local partnership with Head Start Preschool Programs to include Head Start programs in Southern Arizona. It also includes training parents, pediatricians and nurses on preventing obesity in children.

As part of the Catalyzing Communities alliance, they are preparing a community-wide campaign to convince taxpayers to direct a portion of available school tax credits to schools and school districts in less affluent areas. This is seen as a simple, cost-free way to fund extracurricular activities that promote child well-being and offset school funding disparities that can lead to increased obesity in underserved areas.

Plattner thinks wistfully of how his parents’ careers, especially his mother’s, and his own paralleled each other.

“I used to look at my mom and think, ‘Wow, she’s got a really cool job,'” she said. “She was going to different places every day and doing all these interesting and impactful things. I never thought I’d be doing similar work with a bit of a different scale, but here I am. I go to community centers, schools, meetings with community partners and events in the same basic prevention capacity to help create a healthy community I love what I do I am grateful to be in this position and to be of service and see the impact in our community.


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