Kids & Obesity

By Jaclyn Koschalk

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 ).

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.

Canned vegetables are offered in low-sodium packaging, or rinse the vegetables before serving them to remove the preservatives. Meats should be lean, turkey/chicken/fish, or have the fat removed. Adding fats with condiments should be avoided. Try making sauces and dressings using different kinds of herbs, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce or mustard. Always go for the No or Low Fat dressings when buying condiments.

During the summer time, kids tend to drink more fluids and eat more snacks. The best way to replace those fluids is with water. Good secondary options would be 100-percent juice or low fat milk. Sodas contain empty calories, providing little nutrition to the body, but are stored as fat if not used. They also do not rehydrate the body very well and should not be given to children who are outside frequently.

Remember that beverages have calories too, and they can add up quickly in the summer heat. Snacks should be low in fat and incorporate as many of the food groups as possible. Below are some examples of healthy snacks:

1. Fruit smoothies

2. Fresh fruits

3. Fresh vegetables with a low fat yogurt dip

4. Low fat cheese on whole wheat crackers

5. Low fat cottage cheese and fresh fruit

6. Fruit, nut and grain trail mix

7. Rice cakes or fat free popcorn

8. Half a bagel with fat free cream cheese

9. Half turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with mustard

Proper serving sizes will be the biggest learning experience for children today. They have been raised on the Super Size menu and have a very different idea of what a proper portion size is.

Children can eat nutritious food all day long, but if they are overeating, they will still have problems with their weight.

Listed below are some examples of single portions from each food group.

1 slice of bread

1/2 a bagel, English muffin or bun

1 tortilla

1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, and pasta

6 to 8 crackers

1/2 cup starchy vegetable (potatoes)

Fruits and Vegetables:

1/2 a banana

1 medium sized fresh fruit

1/2 cup canned or dried fruit

1/2 cup canned or cooked vegetable

1 cup leafy or raw vegetable

3/4 cup fruit or vegetable juice

3 oz meat poultry or fish

1 egg

2 tablespoon peanut butter

1/2 cup dried beans

1 cup milk

1 cup yogurt

1 oz or 1/2 cup cheese

1/2 cup cottage cheese

Fats and Oils:
1 tablespoon margarine

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1 tablespoon butter

How can we get the kids interested in eating healthy? Exposure to a variety of healthy foods and getting them involved in what they eat can make a world of difference.

I found tons of activities that can be done with kids to educate and involve them in the process of eating healthy on the Internet. Here are some ideas from the TDA Square meals Web site,

1. Throw a party providing new and different kinds of foods the kids may not have experienced before. This is also a great way to introduce new foods you might want to put on the menu. It allows the children to learn about the food before they try it. They will be less apprehensive to try a food they already know something about.

2. Let the kids plan one of your menus. Give them a list of foods they have to work with and guidance on how to prepare a healthy meal. Set goals for them to meet, like incorporating all the food groups to make a balanced meal.

3. At a skit night, have a group a children put together a skit to relay a nutritional message to the audience.

4. Have a cooking demo to show the children how to make low fat desserts. An example would be to make a Parfait with fresh fruit, granola and fat free yogurt.

5. Have a Jeopardy night with nutrition as one of the categories.

We are dooming our children to a life of health problems if we do not teach them how to eat properly and exercise. The obesity epidemic could affect those with out weight problems as well.

The increased cost of healthcare for overweight and obese illnesses could result in companies no longer being able to offer healthcare packages to their employees. Children learn there eating habits during infancy and as toddlers, but those habits can be changed. Is your establishment offering a healthy and well-balanced menu?

Jaclyn Koschalk is a Dietician and ISA School Bid Coordinator for Institutional Sales Associates (ISA), Austin, Texas.