Apolo Ohno delivers healthful message to Bellevue kids




Posted on April 3, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 3 at 10:45 AM

Chinook Middle School students were wild about meeting Olympic sports hero Apolo Ohno.

"I'm really excited to be here, hopefully I can relate to you guys. I think more than half of you are probably taller than me so that helps out a little bit," he said.

His message to students: Set healthy goals and avoid underage drinking. But can even a super athlete make a big enough impact in just one visit?

UW professor of pediatrics Dr. Dimitri Christakis helps answer the question.

"The two biggest influences are parents, and the second biggest one is their peers," said Dr. Christakis.

Dr. Christakis heads the center for child health behavior and development at Seattle Children's Research Institute.

He says celebrities take on a kind of super peer status when kids identify with them.

"What we find is that they will frequently try to act like media characters that they think are cool, and act in certain situations they way they expect they would act," said Dr. Christakis.

Also important, Apolo Ohno literally gave the students a script to use when confronted with peer pressure to drink or use drugs. 

"You guys can say, by yourself if you need to, 'you know what? I'm OK, I don't want to be involved in that," said Ohno.

"He pretty much said don't do drugs or alcohol," said Wes Kapioski.

But can a celebrity with a health message make headway in the flood of bad behaviors kids see in the media? 

"Many many studies have found that responsible behavior on television has as great a positive influence on teens as negative behavior does," said Dr. Christakis.

Still it's only a step.

"The extent to which they're reached by a particular person or a particular experience is unknowable. But the more we try the more likely we are to be successful," said Dr. Christakis.

"I'm not going to drink, because I see what you can do and become when you make the right choices," said Justin Nako.

Apolo credits his dad and his focus on speed skating for steering him down the right path as a teen.