What Happens to Someone Who is Different

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

Why would anyone want to talk about their failures especially in front of a group of strangers?  One by one, an inspirational group of elite runners stood before students in a middle school gym to share stories of success and failure.

These individuals had the courage to share their mistakes, disappointments, and perseverance to overcome their shortcomings.  One story in particular stood out in my mind and touched my heart.  A soft spoken individual named Brent had a long list of accomplishments in his sport and in his life.  He set school records, was a 2012 Olympic Trials Finalist, and even owns his own business.  However, it was not these accomplishments that he emphasized.

At a very young age, Brent suffered severe burns over his body.  In fact, he was burned so badly that doctors were uncertain if he would be able to walk again.  Treatment of the burns required multiple skin grafts during elementary and middle school years.  The burns and the grafts left him with visible scars.  He looked different than most students and he even missed school at times.

What happens to someone who is different?  The eighth graders in the gym were not surprised that the student is picked on and bullied by others.  When someone asked Brent about what it felt like to be bullied, he shared his experience.  “You see, we all have choices to make.  We can choose something healthy or unhealthy.  Students who choose bullying make an unhealthy choice to deal with the bad feelings they have about themselves.  Sometimes people think that if they bully someone else, it will make them feel better about themselves.  It was too bad that they could not find something that was a healthy choice.  I don’t hold it against them for not knowing.”

Wow!  What a way to sum up bullying.  Individuals who make unhealthy choices to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Think about this for a moment.  What if we taught all students healthy skills to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Giving students time to practice these skills, at home and school with adult mentoring allows students to experience the power of these skills.  In other words, we give students the chance to make a healthy choice that leads to mental fitness.  While we are teaching these skills to students, adults benefit from the practice too.

At one time or another, each of us is the one that is different.  So let’s practice healthy choices to avoid the desperation of bullying.  Brent advised students to find the thing that they enjoy and use it to their advantage.  Use it to build yourself up and to help others.  For Brent, running is his passion and it is a passion that he never imagined when undergoing his painful skin grafts.

“Running may not be your passion, but find something that is right for you.  Find your passion,” suggested Brent.  Sometimes we are so distracted with all the noise around us that it is hard to be quiet enough to realize our passion.  We have a choice every day.  Let’s help one another find our passion and use this passion to spread the power of health.  When we do this, we may be ready to embrace the power of being different!


WESTMINSTER, CO, Feb. 7, 2017 – Target and national non-profit KaBOOM! awarded

Healthy Learning Paths a $15,930 grant to use toward the purchase of an Imagination Playground in a Cart™, an innovative playground equipment system.

KaBOOM!, the national non-profit dedicated to giving kids the childhood they deserve through play, is working with Target to increase access to play across the country. Grants for Imagination Playgrounds are helping to achieve that goal by bringing active play to more than 430,000 kids across the country.

Imagination Playground in a Cart™ is an innovative design in play equipment that encourages creativity, communication and collaboration in play. With a collection of custom-designed, oversized blue foam parts, Imagination PlaygroundTM provides a changing array of elements that allow children to turn their playground into a space constantly built and re-built by their imagination.

“Play is power.  Active play is the power for children to learn, communicate, problem solve, and create.  Child-led play is a key factor in the health and healthy development of all children.  The best way for children to learn the benefits of play is through experience,” explains Dr. Chris Marchioni, family physician and executive director of Healthy Learning Paths.  “We are thrilled to partner with KaBOOM and Target to spread the healthy power of play for children and families!”

Children learn the benefits of play through the Healthy Learning Kids program created by Healthy Learning Paths.  During this program, children experience how play keeps the brain, heart, and emotions healthy, happy, and ready to learn.  The partnership of KaBOOM, Target, and Healthy Learning Paths brings more play opportunities to children in poverty in the Denver metro area.  The Imagination Playground will be featured for the public to experience free on Sunday, April 9th, 2017, at the 8th annual Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K and Expo at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield.  Visit frankshorterrace4kids.com to register and for details.

Unstructured, child-directed play has proven to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, yet today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation. The grant is part of Target’s ongoing efforts to help make wellness more affordable, accessible and inspirational for its team members, guests and communities.


Beyond the Picky Eater: Journey to Healthy Eating

by Katie Martin, Instructor, Healthy Learning Paths

Recently, a friend asked for help to get her six-year-old daughter, “a very picky eater,” to eat healthy foods.  Sound familiar?  In fact, picky eaters and lack of eating are common issues among children that can drive parents to embark upon a junk food journey.  Just what some kids are hoping for!

You may worry that your child will starve unless you give her exactly what she wants.  Children do not starve themselves and will eventually eat what is on their plates.  But consistency, patience and perseverance are necessary to help children abandon picky habits.  Here are a few helpful tips on how to put picky eaters on the path to healthy eating:

  • Provide healthy foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruits at every meal.  Experiment with color and texture for a colorful plate.  Offer choices of vegetables and fruits.  This empowers the child to practice making healthy decisions.  All kids need to practice choosing healthy.  Most importantly, model healthy eating too!
  • Constantly expose your children to new foods and how to prepare them.  Get your kids meal planning at the grocery store and cooking with you in the kitchen.  Look through cookbooks or explore online recipes together and have your child help chose the recipe.  When children help prepare meals, they are more eager to eat what they helped create.
  • Preparing food together is a terrific skill for children of all ages.  From washing vegetables to measuring, and even setting the table, these skills need lots of practice and are useful over a lifetime.  Practicing these skills also builds self confidence in children and responsibility.
  • Lastly, when you sit down for your meal, eat as a family.  Try lighting a candle on the table and see what impact it has on the conversation.  Remember a child does not want to eat alone.  Electronics at meal time, steal opportunities for discussion, sharing and even laughter.  These are precious moments for the entire family!

Try not to make food a stressful part of your or your child’s day.  Children feel anxiety when parents are stressed. Stress can create an unpleasant meal environment for everyone.  Practice the suggestions above and never give up.  Healthy eating is a lifelong learning process for children just like learning math or reading.   Remember you are not alone and we are here to help.  To learn about our Healthy Learning Kids nutrition lessons, visit healthylearningpaths.org.

Here are a few ways to add healthy foods to family favorites:

1.  Add chopped spinach to meat sauce of any kind (it doesn’t change the flavor)
a.  Taco/burrito meat
b.  Spaghetti meat sauce
c.  Lasagna

2.  Add vegetables into chili or macaroni and cheese
a.  Shredded carrots
b.  Chopped up spinach
c.  Shredded zucchini
d.  Peas
e.  Green beans

3.  Add mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes

It takes time, practice, and patience.  But don’t forget to approach the process with a healthy dose of fun and humor along with way!  Bon Appétit!

The Best Gift of All

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director Healthy Learning Paths

December brings excitement, anticipation, and joy. For some families, it is also a time of reflection, memories, and unwelcome stress.  The holidays can bring a season of exhausting emotional roller coasters.

Although holidays are a time for family celebrations, for some there is a looming emptiness left from the absence of loved ones.  From serving in the military overseas to suffering from chronic illness to loss of a grandparent through death,  these situations often overshadow holiday joys and add to a hollowness we carry from missing family members.

As we struggle with this stressful burden, it is important to know that you are not alone.  We have a connection with many others around us, both friends and family.  As we rush in holiday preparation with shopping, decorations, and meal planning, each one of us benefits from a long pause—a pause to offer a smile or a gentle squeeze to the arm of a friend or relative.  A pause to offer a listening ear or an understanding heart for loneliness or sadness one may bear.  A pause to recognize how important every child, parent, and grandparent are to us and to others.  A pause to simply slow down and connect to others.

We all have soothing strengths and fragile weaknesses.  However, the holiday season puts each of us to the test.  Even young children and teenagers experience some of the emotional challenges of the holiday season.  To ease the pain of these feelings, sometimes it only takes talking with a friend, parent, or counselor.  What really matters is to find the courage to seek some help to work past the sadness or stress, whatever the cause.  Keep in mind that this does not mean that we are flawed because of these feelings.  It only means that we are amazing humans!

As we create our gift list this season, here are some unique ideas that will make shopping much more enjoyable.  Let’s take the time to listen and to talk with children and adults who experience holiday stress or sadness, this is more valuable than any brightly wrapped toy or gift.  Let’s connect to others with compassionate conversation and kindness, as this fills the hollowness and sadness with hints of peace and joy.  We cannot forget to make adequate sleep a priority, eat healthy foods, drink water, and venture outside the malls for a walk to sustain positive mind and body energy. These gifts are not sold in any stores or on the web.  In fact, these gifts are so valuable that they are priceless, utterly impossible to measure in dollars.

Perhaps the most important, the absolute best gift of all, the gift of kindness and connection to one another is what we all need under our tree.  Happy and Healthy Holidays!


Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths and Child Advocate

5vc8qkyt-1393473615Is technology changing our children?  We are in awe over the ease in which young children tap through apps on ipads and phones.  Frequently a parent comments, “My child is wicked smart.  It is incredible how quickly she navigates my phone!”  There is no doubt that young minds process technology patterns at lightning speeds.  How does technology impact the healthy brain development of a child?

Research shows that children need more than screens for healthy development.  In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social emotional skills.  Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attention skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”[1]

While media use may have some positive impacts, common problems are arising from this form of interaction in children.  “My 4 year old is really hard to get off of the ipad.  When I take it away from him, he is uncontrollable, kicking and screaming,” explains a frustrated father.  “I found my child staying up late at night to play on her ipad.  She is too tired for school because she is playing games at night,” explains a mother.  “I don’t like what it is doing to our family.  These video games put my grandson in a mean mood and we can’t even enjoy a meal together,” reveals a grandfather.  Does any of this sound familiar?  These stories are the norm for today’s families.  So are screens too much of a good thing for young children?

Screen time has been linked to behavioral challenges, sleep problems, obesity, cognitive delays, social emotional delays, and speech delays in children.  Yet, many parents fear that their child may fall behind in school if they are not immersed in the use of technology.  Some parents feel pressure from teachers who say children will be behind even in the early elementary years.   This fear is not based in fact.  In fact, children perform better in school when they build cognitive, language, and social emotional skills through interactions with trusted caregivers.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement with recommendations on media use for young children.  The policy was a result of literature and research review.  The article, “Media and Young Minds” is essential reading for every parent, grandparent, educator, and pediatrician.   Below are actions for families, and recommendations for pediatricians and industry can be found in the full article at:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591 .


  • Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
  • For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  • Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  • Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician for help if needed.
  • Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, available at:

    [1] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591.full.pdf
    American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics Volume 138, number 5, November 2016

What Is Your Checklist for Childhood?

Parents want the best for children, but our peculiar culture drives us to make decisions that do not always benefit our children.  Watch Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford, share powerful wisdom from her experience in working with thousands of youth as she explains, “How to Raise Successful Kids.” 

Where Is Colorado Among Healthiest Schools?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation shared the news below in their Sept. email blast.  This article is created and written by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and it is worth sharing.  Where does Colorado stand?  Click on the “See America’s Healthiest Schools” below to find out.  You may be surprised!

“Young people spend the majority of their day at school. It’s where they spend most of their time outside the home. If we want to create a healthier generation, we need to start with healthy schools.

It makes academic sense.
Kids who eat healthier and move more perform better in school. Studies show that healthy kids get better grades, attend school more often and behave better in class.
It makes economic sense. 
School districts can lose tens of thousands of dollars annually in attendance-based state funding because of absenteeism.
It makes lifetime sense. 
Healthy kids have better attendance.
Each of America’s Healthiest Schools is a best-in-class example of the nationwide movement to create a culture of health at school. All award winners have met stringent guidelines for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, building lifelong healthy skills during physical and health education and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models to the great benefit of their students.”


Note:  Full article content, photos, artwork, and links created by Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Funky Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the perfect back to school snacks.  But, have you ever wondered what causes those spots you see on some fruits and vegetables?  Are they safe to eat?  Educator Elizabeth Brauer may change how you pick your produce after watching her TED talk:  Are Spotty Fruits and Vegetables Safe to Eat?

Why Didn’t Anyone Find a Way to Help?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

513hucDCkzL“My family suffered enormously due to this reluctance to raise a fuss.  Why hadn’t a concerned uncle or aunt followed up on his or her suspicion that, despite appearances, something wasn’t quite right with Dr. Sam and the house on Highland Avenue?  Why weren’t there ever any extended-family holiday gatherings at a house that seemed designed for them?  How come the doc’s kids had such trouble looking you in the eye?  Why didn’t someone break through the veneer of gentility and modesty to rescue us?” asked Frank Shorter in his new book, My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life.

Within days of listening to Mr. Shorter speak about his personal marathon of abuse, three  individuals shared their painful stories with me asking the same question, “Why didn’t anyone find a way to help?”  From college sports such as the Penn State sexual abuse scandal to some religious organizations where clergy abused children for decades to inside the walls of their very own homes, too many children experience violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect in what is a disturbing epidemic in American culture.

Do you know someone who has been abused?  Have you been a victim of abuse?

You are not alone.

In fact, some studies predict that 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18.  Similar studies predict that 50% of all children will experience either sexual abuse, other violent physical abuse, emotional trauma, or neglect by the age of 18.  Research shows child abuse occurs across all education levels, all income levels, all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and all religions.  So how do we solve the problem of child abuse?

Prevention is the key.  But for prevention to work, we must first abandon denial and admit the problem.  Giving ourselves permission to speak openly and honestly about child abuse without casting judgement or shame on the many victims opens the door to find a way to help children and help each other.

One of the most important steps is to talk among ourselves or with health care professionals about the pain we carry from our own experiences.  Finding a safe and trusted environment to share these stories helps healing and gives others the strength to feel and process their pain and disappointment to reclaim emotional and physical health.  While this may create anxiety, it can also be liberating as the walls of loneliness and guilt are replaced by bridges of friendship and understanding.  Once we help ourselves, we will find the power to effectively work together to help children to prevent child abuse.

Thank you, Mr. Frank Shorter for courageously sharing your story and starting this conversation.


One Father’s Power

by Chris Marchioni, MD, a fan of Fathers


Almost 50 gathered with no idea of what to expect.  Some doctor was talking about how kids learn.  Do doctors really understand what helps kids learn?  After all, aren’t schools the experts when it comes to learning for kids?

True or false:  nutrition is important for healthy brain development in kids.  “Overwhelmingly true,” shouted the audience.  True or false:  Nutrition helps kids do better in math.  “Of course this is false,” laughed the audience.

Do you agree?


Healthy nutrition feeds and grows a healthy brain for a child.  Healthy nutrition helps a child perform better in math, reading, writing, science, and even peer relationships.  Yes, this is true.  This is why a doctor is an expert when it comes to learning for kids.  A child’s health has a huge impact on the success of a child’s learning.

Filled with questions, hands in the room popped up like kernels of popcorn sizzling in hot oil.  One concerned mom had a point to make, “Poor families can’t eat healthy.  It’s too expensive.”   Some in the room nodded in agreement, while others went to work using their problem solving skills.  One by one courageous parents shared solutions.  “I buy fruits and vegetables that are on sale and in season.  Wednesday is the best sale day at my grocery store.  I buy frozen fruit and veggies in the winter that don’t have added sugar or salt.”

The concerned mom insisted loudly, “Look, I work at a grocery store.  There is no way poor families can afford to eat healthy.”

Do parents who are poor have the right to make their own decisions?  Do parents who are poor love their children just as much as anyone else?  Of course they do.  Wealth does not measure love or caring.  Even parents who have limited resources love their children and want the best.  In fact, these parents work hard and make sacrifices for the health and education of their kids.  Parents who are poor have the right to make their own decisions.  None of us have the right to take away their power.

At the end of the discussion, a father waited patiently in line to speak to the doctor.  When he approached the doctor, there was a tear rolling gently down his cheek.  In a strong voice, he shared, “Thank you for what you said.  I am one of those poor fathers who does not earn much even though I work very hard.  I love my children and care deeply about their health and learning.  No one has ever explained to me how important nutrition is for learning and development of my children.  This was the best program that I have ever experienced.  I will make changes now that I understand what my children need.  I am grateful.”

In that room of 50, at least one father refused to give away his power and that made all the difference.
Happy Father’s Day!