By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN
Waistlines are expanding in the United States at every age. For the younger generation, it’s particularly alarming, as recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese—and that’s triple the rate from one generation ago.
More body fat in children equates to a whole host of health problems that used to be only health issues linked to adults like high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure, which lead to reduced quality of life. Plus, obese children are faced with the psychological stress of being bullied or excluded socially due to overweight stigmas. Since research has shown that childhood obesity most likely persists into adulthood, it’s a national health improvement priority—with a goal to reduce childhood obesity by 10 percent by 2020—stipulated in the federal program, Healthy People 2020. But, how will this be accomplished?
Healthy Habits at School
Educational messages coupled with institutional changes are successful behavior change strategies; therefore, schools are a big target for shaping education policies and arming children with good nutrition and physical activity resources.
“Children are at school about 1,200 hours per year,” says Matthew Smith, director of development and communications for Action for Healthy Kids, a national non-profit organization headquartered in Chicago that is dedicated to preventing childhood obesity and under-nutrition. “We do our work in schools all over the country with volunteers who facilitate health and learning among children by ensuring proper nutrition through School Breakfast Programs, as well physical education and activity programs,” explains Smith.
Action for Healthy Kids provides programs for 25,000 schools serving 10.8 million children throughout the country. The School Grants for Healthy Kids program will award more than one million dollars to about 1,000 schools for the 2014-2015 school year. Applications are being accepted through May 2 and are available on the Action for Healthy Kids website. (actionforhealthykids.org)
“This is a long haul effort,” says Smith. “By helping schools change their systems and wellness policies, we help create healthy students for life.
Good Eating At Home
Parents can be healthy role models by establishing good nutrition habits at home.
“Make sure your home food environment supports healthy eating—your family can’t eat what isn’t there,” advises Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, a mother and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Make healthful foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans and lean meats readily available at home.
“Allow your children to choose less healthful foods sometimes—when you are away from home—so they don’t feel like any food is forbidden,” explains Dobbins. A set eating schedule is vital but allowing kids to listen to hunger and fullness cues is just as important. “This means trusting and honoring them when they say they are full or when they say they are hungry,” she says. If your child wants a second helping, you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re offering a healthful food.
Re-Think Kids’ Drinks
Kids’ beverages are a big concern as high-glycemic food and beverages (i.e., sugary sweets and regular soda and juice drinks) are associated with a greater increase in blood glucose levels, followed by a rapid decline leading to increased hunger sooner and resulting in increased caloric intake.
Water is the best beverage for children, however, they want flavor in their drinks.
“Sugary beverages are like candy in a bottle,” says Kevin Sherman, chief marketing officer at True Drinks, Inc. Sherman and his team have developed a zero-calorie, sugar-free beverage called Aquaball. Sweetened with Stevia, it’s devoid of high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors or colorings and comes in a ball-shaped bottle.
“Moms are requesting healthier beverages for their kids and we’ve delivered. When kids try Aquaball they love it,” says Sherman.
In order to keep children from falling into habits that may lead to obesity and/or other health issues, we—as adults—have to look at dietary options beyond what is so often placed at eye-level at the grocery store.
Seeing Eye to Eye in the Cereal Aisle
Are your kids “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” or smitten by the “Trix are for kids” bunny rabbit?
There is good reason your children crave these sugary breakfast cereals. According to new research conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab published in the journal, Environment and Behavior, children’s cereal spokes-characters are looking right are your kids, creating a connection and desire to purchase that cereal.
After examining 65 different types of cereal and 86 different spokes-characters in 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut, the Cornell researchers discovered that children’s cereals are placed on the lower shelves at 23 inches from the floor, whereas adult cereals are placed twice as high at 48 inches. Plus, the characters on the boxes are typically looking at a downward angle making eye contact little ones’ eyes. This is a powerful selling strategy as eye contact increases brand trust by 16 percent, according to this study.
Parents, if you don’t want your children begging for boxes of sugary cereals, it may be best to have them avoid eye contact by circumventing the colorful character cereal aisle, if possible.