Food in US day cares needs to be improved and here is how

November 18, 2010 by  
Filed under OBESITY

Childhood obesity is becoming a major concern not only in the US but in many developed countries as well. Current estimates indicated that a 3rd of American children are overweight or obese.

Two factors have been identified as major contributors to obesity – poor nutrition and lack of physical exercise.

The US federal government is now tackling the problem of nutrition at an early age – the day care centers.

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends improvements in the nutritional quality of meals and snacks served to children and adults at day care centers and this may be done through a federally supported  the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The recommendations include increasing the amounts as well as the variety of fruit and vegetables and reducing the amount of salt, added sugar, and fats in the meals.

CACFP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture food program and caters to family day care homes, traditional child care centers, and other places that offer care outside of school hours.

Other concrete recommendations include:

At least half of the grain products served should be rich in whole grains. 

Baked or fried grain products that are high in fat and added sugars would be allowed only once a week.  Sites should use vegetable oils and limited amounts of salt when preparing meals. 

Meats should be lean; soy products, beans, eggs, nuts, and other meat alternatives may be used.

Healthy infants should receive only breast milk or formula until they reach six months, when day care sites should gradually introduce baby foods. 

Children should be given whole milk until age 2.  Milk provided to participants age 2 and older should contain no more than 1 percent fat.

Considering that CACFP provides meals to 3 million children and 114,000 functionally impaired and elderly adults, these recommendations are long overdue. During the last couple of years, the US government have taken steps in improving nutrition programs outside the home, including that National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

According to chair Suzanne P. Murphy, researcher, professor, and director of the Nutrition Support Shared Resource, Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Honolulu:

“The meals and snacks made possible through the Child and Adult Care Food Program are an important source of nutrition for millions of children and tens of thousands of adults. This report points the way to updating the program’s meal requirements so that they reflect the latest nutrition science.  The changes recommended will help program beneficiaries get more of the nutrients they need without getting too many calories and will promote lifelong healthy eating habits.”

Where do those “empty calories” come from?

November 3, 2010 by  

“Empty calories” are the energy that you get when eating solid fats and added sugars. And to them applies the well-known quote “A moment in your lips, forever on your hips.”

These empty calories could well be the main cause of childhood obesity. Current estimates in the US reveal that almost a third of American children are overweight or obese.

“The growing weight problems of our nation’s children stem from a combination of greater energy consumption (counted in calories) and less physical activity. The solution to childhood obesity will involve changes in both diet and physical activity. The best way to cut energy intake is to limit unnecessary empty calories.”

Researchers conducted a study to identify the source of these empty calories. In the framework of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, information on the diets of over 14,000 children aged 2 to 18 years old was collected. Results showed that a whopping 40% of US children’s energy intake are from empty calories, more than double the recommended 8 to 20%. The specific food stuffs involved are listed below.

Sugar-sweetened beverages.  When it comes to giving our kids „empty calories”, nothing beats sugary drinks.  Soda and drinks that try to pass as fruit drinks account for 10% of empty calories.

Grain desserts. This covers cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers and granola bars.

Pizza. This popular take out and home delivery food has long surpassed burgers and fries as our children’s favorite.

Whole milk. Whole milk is a significant source of empty calories particular among Hispanic American children.  Mexican Americans particularly prefer drinks from whole milk whereas non-Hispanic kids go for the sugar-sweetened beverages.

Half of the empty calories come from 6 types of food stuffs, namely:

  • soda
  • fruit drink
  • dairy desserts
  • grain dessert
  • pizza
  • whole milk

So now that we know the sources of these empty calories, we know what we are fighting against. We know what to do.

Reduce intake of sources of empty calories. We cannot get rid of all these from our daily fare, or from our children’s for that matter. But now that they have been identified, we can limit our children’s consumption of these.

More physical exercise. It is not only about intake, it is also about burning those calories away. And physical exercise is the way to go. Check out some tips on how to keep our kids active.

Taking on childhood obesity

March 5, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

We have a common enemy and it’s called children obesity. Let us look at the latest statistics for children aged 6 to 11 years old who are overweight:

  • non-Hispanic whites:16.9% of boys and 15.6% of girls
  • non-Hispanic blacks: 17.2% of boys and 24.8%of girls
  • Mexican Americans: 25.6% of boys and 16.6% of girls.

While the majority of the efforts fighting the obesity battle come from health advocacy groups, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations, it is great to know that corporate America also has a social conscience and has joined the battle. Two of these corporate initiatives are described below.

Obesity and advertising

candiesThe Council of Better Business Bureaus’ (BBB) Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is fighting obesity at the consumer level. The initiative was launched by BBB way back in 2006 to advocate for more responsible advertising among food manufacturers. “The Initiative is aimed at shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.”

The terms of the initiative include

  • at least 50% of ads targeting children under 13 should provide healthy messages and promote better dietary choices and lifestyles. This covers also interactive games and marketing strategies.
  • no advertising of junk food and beverages in elementary schools.

The companies who have pledged (as of February 2009) to the initiative are:

  • Burger King Corp.
  • Cadbury Adams, USA, LLC
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • ConAgra Foods, Inc.
  • The Dannon Company
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • The Hershey Company
  • Kellogg Company
  • Kraft Foods Inc.
  • Mars, Inc.
  • McDonald’s USA
  • Nestlé USA
  • PepsiCo, Inc.
  • Unilever United States

The Initiative is based on a self-regulation program and participation is voluntary. However, once a company has publicly pledged its support for the initiative, it is subject to the standards set by the Initiative.

This is quite different from what is going on in the European Union where the EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices has set guidelines on advertising junk food for children, but the law is to be implemented independently in each member country.

Obesity and healthcare access

Health insurance companies are known to be mean when it comes to health benefit coverage and doctors’ reimbursements. But it seems that some insurers have a social conscience after all that prompted them to be part of the Alliance Healthcare Initiative, which is part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The initiative is a joint effort of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation (founded by former US President Bill Clinton) and is basically an alliance among leading US insurance companies and other big corporations.

Here is what the initiative offers:

  • comprehensive health benefits to children, including coverage for treatment and management of obesity
  • reimbursements for doctors and dieticians for following up children with obesity problems
  • educational campaigns about childhood obesity

Initially in its first year, the alliance will cover 1 million children all over the US. The coverage will be expanded to 25% of all overweight (about 6.2 million) children.

Some of the insurers who signed up for the initiative are

  • Aetna
  • Blue Cross
  • Blue Shield of North Carolina
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
  • WellPoint.

The battle against obesity -especially childhood obesity – is far from over but as long as we fight this together, we will surely win.



Child Obesity and Weight Loss

September 16, 2007 by  
Filed under OBESITY

There’s considerable hype in the news about the incidence of childhood obesity and the risks. As usual, scare stories abound with calls for government intervention and/or large-scale social changes. But apart from the over-the-top reactions, there are some basic facts that remain.

With the increase in the availability and lower cost of food in Western countries, all but the poorest individuals are at no risk of starving. At the same time, convenience foods, fast food establishments and snacks everywhere have made it all the more likely that many will consume too many calories.

At the same time, with the popularity of computer and Internet activities, children (and teens) spend a larger percentage of time being sedentary than in decades past. TV watching and talking on the phone, of course, have been popular for decades. But with the addition of the Internet, hours of physical activity per week has declined for many.

The result is that children today are on average heavier than they were a few decades ago. They also tend to consume more foods high in complex sugars and fat, and less fiber, fruits and vegetables. The net effect is, for some, obesity.

Obesity is measured somewhat differently for children than for adults, as a result of their rapidly changing bodies and metabolic rates that differ. Children often experience growth spurts that would skew any measurement that used BMI (Body Mass Index) primarily. Instead of using BMI alone as a starting point, BMI is combined with age and gender to create a more accurate picture.

Where an adult would be considered (borderline) obese with a BMI of 30 or greater, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) charts would designate a child as obese at the 95th percentile. The two are roughly equivalent, but it’s necessary to look at the charts for a more careful breakdown.

Percentage of body fat is another important measurement and here again the numbers differ by sex. An obese boy would be identified as one whose body fat was 25% or more of total body weight. For girls the number is 32% of body fat as a percentage of total weight.

One major reason for the difference is simply that females naturally have a higher percentage of body fat their entire lives. For adult males the number is roughly 15% for a healthy, fit individual. But for women the number is around 27%.

As with adults, the way to reduce body fat and excess weight involves the twin partners of proper diet and regular exercise. This will usually involve some lifestyle changes. These are often easier to implement for younger children, and have the added advantage of establishing good habits that typically carry on into the teen years and beyond.

Start on the road to good health young and it will be easier to maintain into adulthood.

Exercise Is Good For The Young

August 24, 2007 by  
Filed under OBESITY

Individuals under 20 are naturally more flexible, have higher metabolic rates and more energy than those older. But they, too, need to exercise (in appropriate ways) to avoid injury and build strength and endurance, avoid obesity and stay fit.

Particularly today, when there are so many electronic alternatives, young people may exercise less than they should. It’s during the formative years that individuals lay the groundwork for what later become healthy or poor habits.

Kids will usually become quickly bored with routines designed for adults. But the activity doesn’t have to involve organized group sports, either. A gentle jog with an adult, a tennis game, swimming, golf, martial arts, bicycling, dancing, gymnastics and many other sports are enjoyable for the younger crowd.

Kids are usually sensitive to anything that appears inconsistent or hypocritical from adults. Be prepared to follow your own advice and exercise with them. That also helps parents share quality time with their kids outside the house and during activities that benefit both. Parents get the added benefit of monitoring to ensure that the kids are exercising in a safe and proper way.

Like any routine, if it produces pain – even the day after – the individual is less likely to continue. Keep it simple and build up the difficulty and length gradually. Kids are more flexible, but they too need to warm-up and gently stretch before engaging in vigorous exercise. A few minutes of static and dynamic stretching will help avoid injury.

Exercise routines should take into account the age group of the individual child.

Children from about 4-7 should focus primarily on developing basic physical skills, such as coordination and balance. These are the years when motor skills, eye-hand coordination and other things adults take for granted are still fluid. Children take to these activities naturally, as well. Jumping rope, hopscotch and other simple activities help guide the development of these skills.

From the age of 8 or so, exercises can become more vigorous in order to keep that active metabolism from turning food into fat. Here again, though, adults need to guide kids in order to build good habits and avoid injury. Weight machines are almost always a bad idea for pre-teens, for example. They’re risky and unnecessary.

Gymnastics, by contrast, helps build on those basic motor skills learned earlier while developing strength, balance and keeping the endocrine system active and healthy.

For teens, the field is wide open. They have the basic bone and muscle structure that gives them the potential for high performance activity in a wide variety of activities. But here, too, the possibility of injury remains for those who don’t get the proper guidance.

Teens are inclined to roughhousing and rebelliousness. Give them an outlet that directs all that energy and independence to the achievement of positive goals – fitness, endurance, high scores.

Are Your Kids Getting Fat This Summer?

July 4, 2007 by  
Filed under OBESITY

By Eliz Greene

More and more schools are addressing the problem of childhood obesity with increased activity and better food choices, but here’s the problem. What happens when kids leave the structure of school for the summer?

They gain weight according to a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gone are the days of our childhood, when we were sent out of the house in the morning to play in the neighborhood and returned for meals. We live in a different world — yet, our kids need to be active.

Here are some tips to keep your kids healthy this summer:

Skip the soda. Kids need water, and lots of it. Soda, powdered drink mixes, and juices add calories your kids don’t need and have trouble burning off. If your kids don’t like water, try adding a splash of 100% juice or juice flavored ice cubes. If your kids are active outside on days warmer than 90 degrees you might consider giving them a sports drink — but they don’t need the added calories or sodium otherwise.

Structure when they eat. Eat at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Limit snacking to once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Snacks should be small and include fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.

Limit TV time. One or two hours of television or computer/video game time per day is plenty.

Plan something active. Everyday make sure your kids are moving for about an hour. This can be split into two 30 minute sessions or three 15 minute sessions. Walking the dog, mowing the lawn, cleaning up around the house are all good ways the kids can help and be active at the same time. Don’t forget about fun games like tag or even playing in the sprinkler. Simply playing at the playground or shooting baskets can get them moving.

Keep out the junk. If the chips aren’t in the house, the kids won’t eat them. Fill your cupboards and fridge with healthy snack choices.

Of course, all of these tricks will help parent stay healthy this summer too!

Eliz Greene is a heart attack survivor, author and nationally known speaker on a mission to encourage women to recognize heart disease as their most serious health threat and provide down-to-earth strategies for active and healthy lives. Learn more about Eliz and the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative at

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.