Childhood Obesity Awareness Month a great time to put down the electronics and get moving


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  • PHOTOS BY LAURIE GORDON Members of The Bears Youth Running Club line up for a local race.



Childhood Obesity has been given many ways to enter our homes.

In the past, kids played outside a lot more... that's what kids did. But times have changed and with the advent of the Internet, countless make-life-simple devices, cell phones and the fact that a lot of kids have simply become lazy due to the advent of video games and fast food, Childhood Obesity is now an epidemic.

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, so here are some ways to turn things around.

“Healthy lifestyles and habits are formed at a young age and the choices they make today can impact their health status as they age,” said pharmacist Bogdan Bienko. “Parents need to ask themselves what their children do in their free time? Are they constantly on the move and involved in after-school sports or activities or are their eyes constantly glued to tablets, video games or the television."

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. A child is defined as “affected by obesity” if their body mass index-for-age (BMI) percentile is greater than 95 percent. A child is defined as “overweight” if their BMI-for-age percentile is greater than 85 percent and less than 95 percent. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Conditions that were once seen only in adults.

Obesity in childhood and adulthood is preventable/reversible.

"A child should never 'diet'," said Nutritionist Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, who owns Vernon Nutrition Center. "instead, a transition to a healthy lifestyle as a whole family is essential. Focus on choosing whole, unprocessed foods and filling the plate halfway with fruits and vegetables at each meal. This will help to increase the volume of the foods eaten and provide your child with a sense of fullness while slashing calories in half. In addition, regular physical activity should be a family habit. Instead of focusing on getting your child to ‘exercise’ get moving together as a family by taking walks, playing outside, and making movement fun.”

Palinski-Wade is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert who has contributed her expertise to national media outlets such as the CBS Early Show,

Palinski-Wade added that the “typical American diet" is wrong. “

It's lacking in plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit, rich in high fat proteins, sodium, refined grains, and simple sugars. These foods can stimulate hunger and cravings, increase inflammation, and promote fatigue all of which can increase the potential for weight gain.”

She suggests using the start of each school year to make some changes in family life, pack children a healthy, balanced lunch to bring to school and encourage them to be active during recess and phys ed classes. “Work with your child’s physician if you have concerns over your child’s health status to develop a plan for healthy lifestyle modifications and goals. “

Diane Delaney is a registered dietitian for Atlantic Health System attributes Childhood Obesity to a collection of factors.

“First, often parents don’t realize their child’s calorie needs are less than their own," she said. "For example, most dads require more than 2000 calories daily. Let’s say the dad has an 11-year old-son who is not very active and needs only 1,600 calories a day. Let’s say dad stops at an ice cream place and he and his son both have a large waffle cone full of ice cream. This snack may provide 800 calories or more which represents at least 50% of the son’s calorie needs for the entire day. Then if they go to a fast food place for dinner the son’s calorie needs will be exceeded by hundreds of calories.”

Compounding this, Delaney added kids are attached to their electronic devices which reduces time for physical activity, and parents have trouble giving up their own poor eating habits.

“For example, if we ask parents to stop buying chips and dip, the parent may find an excuse to keep buying it.” Delaney said, “I sound harsh towards parents but I don’t mean to be, however parents are the source of their children’s food and beverages. If the parents are on board with helping their child lose weight, the child will have more success. “

The Foodshed Alliance's LocalShare program connects people in need with locally grown natural foods. Through volunteers, it turns what farmers could not harvest into nutrition for neighbors who need it most.

"All of the work we do involves the community and aims to bring people together to share food that would otherwise be wasted," said Christine Parauda, project coordinator. "By involving individuals of all ages and groups like Project Self Sufficiency, SCARC, schools, girl and boy scouts, church groups and corporate groups we provide an opportunity for people to connect with where their food comes from while helping others, enjoying the beauty of nature and the healthy physical benefits of this activity."

LocalShare is also committed to nutrition education through cooking demonstrations, food sampling and recipe demonstrations sharing simple preparations that are nutritious and delicious, "This is helpful when you have never tasted kale or a turnip and would otherwise not know what to do with these vegetables," Parauda said, "LocalShare is happy to share in the movement of connecting kids with food from the farm to the table. We are grateful to our many volunteers who make it happen and for our special relationships with local farmers whose generosity makes it possible."

Though Childhood Obesity is far more prevalent than it used to be, steps are being taken to nip it in the bud.

One example is that companies that provide the food for local school cafeterias have revamped. Maschio's Food Service, the company in schools including The Stillwater Township School, offers daily “swap outs” including healthy choices such as a chef salad or chicken Caesar salad and the menu includes such items as Jersey Fresh Cucumber and Tomato Salad, Jersey Fresh Fruit , and Jersey Fresh Pepper Dippers. Sodexo, the food provider at Byram Lakes Elementary School and other area schools has taken First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to end childhood obesity one step further and has held healthy cooking competitions at the school called Sodexo Future Chefs. Attorney Jeffrey S. Katz, who practices out of Newton, sponsors The Bears Youth Running Program. Entering its 18th year, the program will be held on Friday afternoons this fall at Lodestar Park in Fredon, and aims to get kids away from the electronics, outside and active and feeling good about themselves both physically and mentally.

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