Kids & Obesity

The topic of nutrition has been appearing more frequently around the state of Texas, where I live and work, over the past year. Though Texas is unique in many ways, it is not unique in nutritional trends, and our experience here is similar to the rest of North America.

Some radical changes have been made to how our children are eating. Thirty percent of the children in Texas between the ages of 2-19 are overweight or obese.

Common myths about overweight children used to be that they would grow into their weight, or that it’s just baby fat, which they will lose, as they get older. The frightening reality is that most of these children will be overweight or obese as adults.

Type 2 Diabetes is typically detected in adults and the primary cause for developing the disease is being overweight. Over the past few years, Doctors are identifying an increasing amount of children with Type 2 Diabetes. The primary cause was also being overweight.

This alarming discovery triggered the state of Texas to recognize that the obesity problem in our state is an epidemic.

If we do not make changes, the number of overweight or obese children in Texas is expected to increase 50 percent by 2040.

The healthcare costs for overweight and obesity related illnesses are expected to be in the ballpark of $39 billion by 2040 in Texas alone.

We are reaching a point where treatment may not be affordable, so we must work on prevention. Every opportunity to educate children on eating properly and exercising should be utilized.

Schools to Camps

Texas has started taking steps to provide healthier foods in schools. Over the past school year, all schools in Texas had to follow a Nutrition Policy set forth by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). The policy strongly regulates “Foods with Minimal Nutritional Value.” These are foods that provide little benefit to the body. Foods such as candy and sodas would fall into this category. These foods have been eliminated from elementary schools and are only offered at certain times of the day for middle and high school.

Another major focus of the policies is to get fried food out. All fryers must be out of the schools by January of 2009. Potato products, that have been fried or par-fried, are limited to 3 oz servings. They can only be served so many times a week, depending on the grade level. Other items that are usually fried must now be baked. Cookies, chips, bakery goods, and desserts have been reduced in portion size.

This is just a start for the schools. More guidelines will be put into place to ensure that our kids are eating better at school. Summer and other non-school programs can support the efforts of the schools by adhering to these guidelines as well.

The Pyramid Tool

One recent change in nutrition that is a great tool to use with children is the new Food Guide Pyramid. (Editor’s Note: this has since been renamed Choose My Plate and can be found at http://myplate.gov/).

The new pyramid is now interactive and can be personalized to the individual. It takes into consideration a person’s age, gender and activity level. The activity level is based on aerobic activity in addition to normal daily activity.

On a personalized pyramid, examples are given of portion sizes to guide you in what quantity of food a person should eat from each food group.

The Web site provides a diet and exercise assessment tool, called My Pyramid Tracker. This tool helps each person determine calories, grams of fat, sodium intake, and so on, in one day. It also helps the person determine how many calories they burned that day with exercise. It lets the person know if the food they ate and the exercise they did was good or not.

Finally, this Web site offers Meal Tracking sheets. These sheets help a person to write down what they have eaten for an entire day and how much they ate of each food. It helps to give a good perspective on how much food a person is really eating. The new My Pyramid is a valuable tool to use and kids need to know about it.

Action Plan

When planning your menu, here is some advice to take into consideration. Whole grains are always a better choice than grains with enriched flours.

Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are a better choice than canned. If the only option is canned fruit, buy canned fruit packed in its natural juices.

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