|My grandson Matisse loves to run and play and eat his veggies! He doesn't watch TV or drink soda. This will help keep him trim and healthy throughout his life.|
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With one third of Americans being obese, it's not a surprise that childhood obesity is also on the rise. After all, it's the adults that feed these children and set the rules. In fact, childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1980! Whether or not your own children are overweight, this statistic effects everyone. Obesity in this country, despite the age, leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other degenerative disorders. It's what's causing our healthcare costs to skyrocket. Most importantly, it's one of the main reasons that this generation may not live as long as their parents. I recently read about a program that promotes good habits in children and I would like to share it with you.
5-2-1-0 Program and the Let's Go! Initiative
The state of Maine, trying to address this problem, began the "Let's Go!" initiative which is being adopted in many of their schools, childcare centers and after-school programs. The program promotes the 5-2-1-0 Message which is:
5 or more fruits and vegetables
2 hours or less recreational screen time
1 hour or more of physical activity
0 sugary drinks - more water and low fat milk (I suggest non-dairy)
5 or more fruits and vegetables
There are several challenges here:
The first is the child's personal preferences. Although many children eat some fruit, many avoid vegetables all together. But these habits are often brought on by the parents. Kids eat what you offer them and what they see you enjoy. No one was born craving happy meals. My grandsons love veggies. Why, because that's what they are fed. They help their mom garden and often pick the veggies off the vine and pop them in their mouths. My daughter-in-law helps run a school garden program where they are teaching the students to plant various vegetables and eat the bounty! Much to the parents surprise, the kids are going home and asking for salads!
The second issue is accessibility. Schools are beginning to get some pressure to offer more healthful meals (and no, ketchup shouldn't count as a serving of vegetables!). You should encourage your own schools to adopt healthy programs offering fresh salads, whole grains, vegetables and fruits while discouraging cheese drenched pizza and high calorie fried foods with little nutritional value.
Another issue is cost. You can feed a family of four at Taco bell for what it costs for a few pounds of organic apples. It's sad but true. But as long as farmers are subsidized to grow corn instead of fruits and vegetables, this fact will remain. However, it you factor the cost of health care into the equation, paying for food that eventually prevents expensive medical bills is a good financial decision.
2 hour or less recreational screen time
TV's and video games seem like a great invention for parents. It's just so darn convenient to plop the kids in front of their favorite show or to allow them to play a game. Then you're able to prepare dinner or just take a break. But sometimes this gets out of hand and kids end up spending most of their free time doing this. There are a few good reasons why this should be curtailed:
First, if they are watching TV or playing video games, they are NOT reading, drawing, playing a musical instrument, learning to play chess or doing something physical. Hence the term, "couch potato".
Second, they are getting exposed to advertising! Marketing junk food to children is big business. In my post, "Fast Food Facts", I showed that the fast food industry spent over $4 billion on fast food marketing resulting in 40% of children asking to go to McD's once a week and 15% of PRESCHOOLERS asking to go EVERY DAY!
Another problem with watching too much TV, especially at a young age, is the effect it could have on the brain. A 2004 study by Dr. Christakis showed that 2.2 to 3.6 hours of TV viewing by children from 1 to 3 was associated with ADHD when the children reached the age of 7. Earlier research suggested that the rapid sounds and images that the child experiences from TV is what causes the neurological system of a young child to mimic that frenetic pace and exhibit ADHD behavior. (Add fast forwarding from Tivo and your head can explode!)
1 Hour of Physical Activity
If you are old enough to remember when kids could safely go outside, you probably are thinking that 1 hour of physical activity is ridiculously small. Your school probably had a physical education program and when you got home, you probably played outside for hours. Then after dinner, you most likely begged to go back out until dark. I grew up in New York City and even I played outside more than one hour a day. But today, for many reasons, kids aren't getting even a minimum of physical exercise.
Get your kids in sports or set up play dates in the park, not at the movies. Go for a family hike or bike ride. Put up a hoop and buy a basketball. Just get the kids out of the house and moving!
Junk food plus little or no physical activity spells obesity!
0 sugary drinks, more water and low fat (non-dairy) milk
Foodbeast reported the "7-11 double big gulp holds 200% the average human stomach's capacity". This 44 ounce sugary drink supplies 800 nutrient-free calories! According to Robert Lustig, a UCSF pediatric neuroendocrinologist, "sugar is poison!" - especially the high-fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks. He believes that fructose generates increased insulin resistance. Chronically elevated insulin blocks leptin (a brain hormone) from signaling the body that it is full. So even though a child or an adult is drinking hundreds or thousands of calories from soft drinks, the body thinks it's starving! Bottom line, don't let the kids drink soda.
Now, what should they drink? Water is a good substitute for sure. This program also promotes low fat milk but I'm not a big fan of dairy for children. In Dr. Schmidt's book, "Childhood Ear Infections", recurrent ear infections can be virtually eliminated by removing dairy from the child's diet. The book, "Beyond Antibiotics", talks about an ear nose and throat specialist named Dr. Pullen who practices in Miami, Florida. Whenever patients come to him to have tubes surgically implanted in their eardrums (a common operation for children who have chronic ear infections), he puts them on a dairy-free diet for one month. After one month, 75% of the children no longer need the surgery! I wish I knew this when my son was 18 months old and had these tubes put into his ears. There are many dairy free beverages like soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk and rice milk that your children can enjoy. Many juices are also high in sugar and should be avoided.
School's Almost Over. Why Bring this up Now?
Even though school is about to end, I think the summer would be a great time to try and drum up support for a similar program in your local school. To get some ideas on how to do this, check out Let'sGo!
Summer is also a good time to practice these principles. Talk to some other parents and see what they think about the program. I like the simplicity of it. It provides structure and a few rules on how you and your children deal with food, TV, exercise and sugary drinks. It's easier to say, "you haven't had your 5 fruits and vegetables" than just to say, "you need to eat more vegetables". It's more definitive to say, "you've already watched your 2 hours of TV" than to say, "shut that darn thing off, you've been watching it all day!" And once they get into the habit of running around and playing for an hour a day, you won't be able to get them to stop! They'll be begging to play outside until dark - just like you did!