Naomi G. Anderson Schucker, 30
Program director for MaineHealth
As the program director for MaineHealth’s Community Health Program, Naomi Schucker understands that it may takes years – even decades – before her efforts to promote healthy diet and exercise are realized.
Schucker points out that it took 30 years before tobacco education efforts made significant reductions in smoking, and unlike smoking, eating is a necessary part of life.
“I’ve always been interested in healthy eating and active living, and these are two behaviors that are tough to change,” said Schucker. “It’s a challenge because it’s not something you can write a prescription for.”
Schucker’s efforts to boost healthy eating and exercise in the community include managing the Let’s Go! program, which is a call to action against childhood obsesity; working on policies such as fast-food labeling to make it easier for people to make healthy choices; and helping to implement healthy eating and exercise habits within MaineHealth’s own community of employees. MaineHealth, which is the parent company to Maine Medical Center as well as other hospitals and health care providers in 11 counties, employs more than 10,000 people around the state.
“You always want to start with your own community,” said Schucker. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our employees do the same thing we’re asking our youth to achieve.”
She helped start the Let’s Go! program in 2005 (letsgo.org), the year she joined MaineHealth, promoting 5-2-1-0 – 5 fruits and vegetables a day, 2 hours or less of screen time, 1 hour of physical activity and 0 sugary drinks a day. One of the ways she’s seen it be effective is by taking a multi-sector approach, which means not only implementing the program at doctors’ offices, but also bringing it to schools, work places, child care providers, so that it is a part of a child’s community.
“When a physician finds out that a school is involved in Let’s Go! the conversation around healthy behaviors gets easier,” explained Schucker. “The kids are excited that they know something about it, and they’re excited to let people know.”
Schucker, who has a month-old daughter, grew up in Gorham, but left to pursue her education, first at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania then at Yale University, where she earned her master’s degree in public health. She said there are some trade-offs in returning home, but that it was worth it.
“I enjoyed my time away, but I really valued what Maine had to offer for family. It was really important for me to come back to Maine and help my community,” said Schucker. “There’s not as many opportunities as in a big metropolitan area, but it’s incredibly rewarding.”