For the leader of a class on healthy living at Mare Island Health and Fitness Academy, Andrew Muck takes a somewhat low-key approach, not saying much or directing lessons among the parents and children. 

And that's one measure of its success. 

Muck is a Touro University California student with a passion for public health, and strong desire to empower both adults and children to embrace healthy food and activities. 

Vallejo parents, who have been trained by other parents, lead the lessons on reading food labels, distinguishing good fats from bad fats, benefits of fruits and vegetables, and discovering just how many packets of sugar are in a can of soda -- 18 packets in a can of Mountain Dew, for instance. 

A Touro University California independent student in the Masters of Public Health program, Muck recently won a Student Hero Award for his work in local schools. 

He is the current project coordinator for both the Community Health Programer and e.n.e.r.g.y. programs, coordinating all aspects of their implementation in both Vallejo and in the Fairfield-Suisun area. 

A key component is to train parents who go through the courses, and incorporate the changes into their lifestyles. 

They, then, impart their knowledge and wisdom onto other moms and dads. The acronym e.n.e.r.g.y. stands for "eating nutritiously exercising regularly growing wisely." 

A parent hearing about healthy eating from another parent is more likely to accept the material rather than an "expert" delivering a lesson, Muck said. 

At the Mare Island after school program, about 20 parents and their children gather in an activity room for a few hours each week. The adults get basics in nutritious eating and healthy living, while children engage in various supervised activities. There's also healthy food for snacks and a cooking lesson. 

Parent Barbara Bennett chatted quietly with Muck for a few minutes before tackling the next lesson. She said the guidelines for healthy eating have been very helpful for her in shopping and cooking for her family. 

Most things covered in the classes she already knows but it's good to get a refresher course, she said. One of her favorite parts is getting new recipes showing different ways to use and cook vegetables. 

Parent educator Sara Sanchez, who has lost 80 pounds since she started with the course last year, is a health promoter who fell in love with the program at Elsa Widenmann Elementary. She put it into effect in her own family, she said. 

She credited Muck with helping to simplify the material so she and others could easily understand it, and then teach it to other parents. 

Changing eating habits, implementing new diets and foods and activities are no easy feats for busy parents who may be working, Sanchez said. 

Muck has helped design the after school classes so that parents can easily grasp the basics of nutrition, healthy eating and getting enough activity. 

They learn how to read food labels, distinguish good from bad fats and how to substitute unhealthy snacks and food with more healthy choices, such as choosing an apple over a candy bar. 

He's a big advocate of people approaching such weighty issues with small, manageable and realistic steps that can be taken over time. 

By incorporating the lessons into his own life, he has lost 40 pounds since November, he said. 

The secret, he said, is to eat smaller portions at meals, run at least three times a week and substitute his previous choices of unhealthy foods with more healthy ones. 

One way people fall off the track is by tackling too much too soon, and also expecting overnight results, he said. 

Sanchez said Muck is very supportive of parents and the many challenges they face in working, raising kids and trying to make healthy lifestyle changes. 

"Andrew's been wonderful. We've worked with others in Touro who make it easier for parents to understand and who make you feel great for making changes," she said. 

Touro Associate Professor Annette Aalborg said funding for the program comes through a grant, and its main focus is to increase knowledge and skills and encourage new behavior on healthy eating and exercise. 

Muck's approach, she said, incorporates problem-solving and community-building and involves innovative activities, such as parents recording their daily meals and activities with disposable cameras.

In working with Vallejo families, Muck said the biggest challenges he's found is that parents, often, have little access to healthy items, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, or they can't afford them.

Muck is clearly fired up about his work and credits Touro instructors for helping him find his passion -- working in public health and finding ways for all members of society to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

After graduating from Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville, Muck attended UC Davis and received a degree in biological sciences, but wasn't sure what to do next. When he enrolled at Touro University, he said instructors there helped him find what he wanted to do with his life.

After he graduates from Touro University he and his wife intend to live locally, and he wants to work in public health. 

"I want to stay around here and work in Solano County. It feels so great to give back to the community," he said. 

Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at or (707) 553-6832. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVTH. 

Andrew Muck

Hometown: Vacaville

Touro University California Masters of Public Health student, Vallejo

Age: 27

Family: Wife Jinny Muck. 

Quote: "Everybody deserves a chance and opportunity to live well."