Kevin Strong Dunks The Junk

At Staples and Duke University, Kevin Strong was an elite swimmer. Now — 20 years out of college — Kevin is a pediatrician in Maine.

Neither swimming nor treating babies up north screams “hip hop” and “graffiti art.” But Kevin has combined both those mediums with his fervent conviction that junk food is killing our kids. The result: a grassroots “Dunk the Junk” campaign that he hopes will slash childhood obesity, improve health, and make a major impact on the lifelong eating habits of young and old alike.

Dr. Kevin Strong

Kevin is not a rapper or graffiti artist himself. After med school at UConn and residency at UC San Diego, he joined the solo pediatrics practice of Dr. Charles Hemenway Jr. in Fairfield. They worked together for 7 years — a “great experience,” Kevin says — but as the medical model moved toward seeing more patients for less time, he made the tough decision to move.

Three years ago he and his family found Camden, a Maine town on the ocean that he calls “like dreamland.” He’s working now as a pediatric hospitalist at Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center.

That’s where he sees an inordinate number of youngsters who are morbidly obese, and/or have Type 2 diabetes.

About half of Maine’s children are overweight — in some counties, a third are obese — and that’s both a health and economic hazard. Compounding the issue: Many of the parents — and doctors — in these kids’ lives are overweight themselves.

Simply saying “exercise more” doesn’t work, Kevin says. Many youngsters are already active. Nor does adding salad bars to school cafeterias. Kids need to be engaged on their own terms.

Kevin is convinced that reducing sugar — particularly soda consumption — is the key. He’s always loved graffiti art, so he hunted down Portland’s leading street artist Too Rich — (real name: Mike Rich)– and enlisted him in the project.

The program is supported by private donations, healthy-food companies and foundations.

The campaign’s name —Dunk the Junk — draws on the image of “dunking” junk, the way a basketball player dunks a ball.

A Dunk the Junk video shows 10 of the worst junk foods — energy and sports drinks, fruit snacks and fruit juice, gerasy chips, sugary cereals, chocolate milk and the #1 offender, soda — being dunked into oblivion, replaced by healthier alternatives.

Hip hop music plays; the graphics are street art. A web module is being prepared for doctors’ offices; an illustrated children’s book will be given to mothers of 6-month-olds, to entertain their kids while teaching the parents how to avoid introducing processed foods that instill in infants a craving for junk food that could persist throughout their lives.

The project will move from Maine to Philadelphia this summer, with a major event at an outdoor basketball court. Big-name entertainers and athletes will show up; Mike Rich will paint a graffiti mural that becomes the city-wide symbol of dunking junk food.

The Roots — Jimmy Fallon’s house band — have gotten involved too.

Kevin Strong sees too many kids like this in Maine. (Photo/www.foodfacts.info/blog)

And Kevin is taking his show on the road to healthcare workers. On March 21 he’ll present his program during pediatric grand rounds at Bridgeport Hospital. In May he’ll do the same at Norwalk Hospital.

Kevin says he’s using his own entrepreneurial spirit to try to do something good. He is harnessing creative artists to help deliver “a powerful, captivating message” for kids.

There was once a saying in politics: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

Kevin Strong is betting it’s true for fresh fruit and vegetables, plain peanut butter and whole milk too.

8 responses to “Kevin Strong Dunks The Junk

  1. It seems that those attempting to change national habits are doing good work but have low acceptance. Those who champion the cause should visit those places where you can see parents loading up themselves with forbitdden fruit and drop the poster on their table. It is there and at home where the disease begins. However, be prepared to scoot as the infected may react in a non-friendly manner. By the way, Camden harbor is a beautiful sight with a number of vacation schooners at anchor.

  2. Francoeur Luisa

    “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan

  3. We are very proud of the good work that our son Kevin is doing.
    His dedication to good health and the importance of an early start began
    on the Water Rat swim team at the Westport YMCA . He was launched on a path focused on youth fitness which we now see.
    Brian and Nancy Strong

  4. Sven Davidson

    Ate food. Mostly plants. Still hungry.

  5. STAY AWAY FROM ANY PROCESSED FOOD!!!!!!

  6. The more articles like this and the more parents who internalize the critical importance of eating the right way from the start –then perhaps we can create a game change. However, the reality on the ground, in school lunchrooms, the dinner table and during playdates still consists of processed food. Kids eating habits are just that: habits. It is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children that what goes in their mouth is valuable. Fuel your body properly and it will run optimally. As a parent who cares passionately about teaching my children about healthy eating, I wait impatiently for the day that companies stop putting profits first. I support Kevin’s approach–putting it on the kids’ level is a great strategy especially if we can get them to influence their parent’s buying choices too.

    • No one is forced to eat junk food. There are 5 Dunkin Donuts within a short distance of downtown Westport for a reason. Stop blaming “corporations” ; that is a cop out.

  7. Dan. Thanks to your great coverage a number of motivated citizens have contacted me to participate in the Dunk the Junk movement. A simple way for others to participate is by LIKING our Facebook page, following us on twitter, or by passing the links along to mission friendly acquaintances as many of the grants we apply for now use the social media metric in scoring. I will attach the links below for ease of clicking….
    https://twitter.com/#!/DunkTheJunkFood
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dunk-The-Junk/135164249892912
    Here is our latest video as well(VERY COOL)…..

    Gratefully,
    Westport Native Kevin Strong, MD (Hopefully, this format accepts the links)