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It Takes More than Fresh Food to Rein in Childhood Obesity

By Jorge E. Bañales

When it comes to obesity, it's calories that count.

At least that is what Keith-Thomas Ayoob says.

"It's not just about fresh produce," said Ayoob, director of the Nutrition Clinic, at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center and associate clinical professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

"There's plenty of good nutrition in frozen and canned fruits and vegetables- the research shows this. Canned and frozen foods can help make meals healthy and lower in calories and they can do it with nothing wasted. Fresh fruit however, really helps when it comes to replacing high-calorie snacks and desserts."

But Ayoob warns that having fresh produce available doesn't mean people are going to buy it or eat it once they get it home. He says there's plenty of obesity in neighborhoods that have fresh food available.

"One way to get kids to eat healthy meals, Ayoob said, is to start making sure the food environment at home makes it possible for them to have access to healthy snacks.

"The best way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is to have parents who do the same and make it a priority by keeping the junk out of the home," he said. "I never see children who eat better diets than their parents."

Ayoob suggests cutting down on sugary beverages and buying reasonably-priced produce in bulk.

"Apples, oranges, pears and tangerines are popular with kids," Ayoob said. "These can also be used to bulk up salads, hot cereal and even [be] added to rice dishes. They can also be more economical than a lot of the junkie snacks people buy for their families."

Steve Kelder, co-director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas' School of Public Health takes all the mysticism out of the equation. For him, most people are obese because they eat too much and exercise too little.

"Obese individuals need to eat less, especially foods that are 'calorie dense' or foods of minimal nutritional value-these foods are highly processed and often have a great deal of added sweeteners, salt and fat," he said. "While these additional ingredients help greatly improve taste, texture, and extend product shelf life, they come with an additional price tag: unwanted calories."

Kelder said fresh foods are typically unprocessed without the added fat, salt, and sweeteners. When fresh foods are a large part of your diet, they replace consumption of less healthy junk foods. The trick is providing children with enough opportunity to frequently taste healthy foods, until they learn to like them."

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describe a healthy diet as one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.

Related Readings

Creating Oasis amidst Food Deserts: Strategies for Childhood Obesity Prevention
The School Front of the Obesity Epidemic
Minority Health and School Food: What's the Link?
National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet
NSLP Child Nutrition Fact Sheet Exit Disclaimer
Food Research and Action Center Exit Disclaimer
USDA The National School Lunch Program: Background, Trends, and Issues
CDC Obesity Rates


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Content Last Modified: 7/18/2011 12:45:00 PM
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