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The fats of Life

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunArturo Garcia, 6, Carlos Rivera, 6, and Carlos Ramirez, 7, await their lunch at Glenshire Elementary.
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A Glenshire Elementary fifth-grader opened up his lunch bag in the school cafeteria recently, revealing what nutrition experts point to as a main cause of the childhood obesity epidemic sweeping the country: Oreo cookies, Goldfish crackers, a chocolate chip granola bar, a Tootsie Pop, M&Ms, Motts cinnamon apple sauce, and half of a PBJ sandwich. Even the 10 year old conceded that it wasnt the best example of a healthy school lunch.Tie processed, empty calorie foods together with a sedentary, television- and computer-centric existence and the result is frightening. Our childrens generation will be the first in history not likely to surpass its parents life expectancy, to think that because of our lifestyles we are going backwards, says Dr. Sandra Carter, director of health promotions at Tahoe Forest Center for Health and Sports Performance.

Over the past three decades in the United States the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children ages 2-5 and adolescents from 12-19, and has more than tripled for children ages 6-11, according to a 2004 Institute of Medicine report. Childhood obesity has been labeled an epidemic in California, with 26.5 percent of 6 to 9 year olds determined to be obese.There are no local childhood obesity statistics for Truckee and North Lake Tahoe, but its not true that this region is any healthier compared to the rest of the state, says Jill Whisler, MS, RD, clinical/wellness dietitian, who also works at the Center for Health and Sports Performance. An overweight child with a few extra pounds differs from an obese child. A child whose weight is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for his or her height and body type is considered obese. Obesity often begins at the ages of 5 and 6 and during adolescence.The causes of childhood obesity include genetics and a family history of obesity, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, stressful life events, abuse, peer problems, or emotional issues like low self-esteem, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Food is love in a lot of cultures, Whisler says.In some families, cooking up a big meal with all the fixings is a way parents show affection to their youngsters. The most critical years for a child to learn about nutrition are from birth to 8 years old, with parents the gatekeepers of teaching children the difference between whats healthy and whats not, Whisler says.The variety of food choices has increased in recent years, but so has the number of foods with ingredients high in trans-fat and sugars, Whisler says. Meals are more processed rather than opting for recipes with fresh ingredients. Experts say there are changes being made to address childrens health concerns.Exercise and nutrition are two areas we can have an impact in, Whisler says.The Nutrition Coalition of Truckee and North Lake Tahoe is trying to address healthy eating habits at lunch time. The local organization includes parents, teachers, school administrators, food service directors, doctors, dietitians, exercise physiologists, business owners, and representatives from Project MANA, Sierra Nevada Childrens Services, Family Resource Centers, and preschool and day care providers.Some parents keep sending the same food in school lunches everyday. Whisler says children need to be exposed to new choices.Before school started Whisler and Moodys Bistro owner and head chef Mark Estee visited all of the grade schools in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District to train kitchen staff to spice things up using culinary flare with the school menus to appeal to children, Whisler says.Whisler says the coalition is trying to gain support for Fun Food Fridays, a program that will introduce youth to new fruits and vegetables. Truckee Elementary School has had success implementing the Friday program already. Youngsters will get the chance to taste things like pomegranate on one Friday a month starting in October and continuing for five months in the school year, she says.Whisler says the coalition is also applying for grant funding to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for school lunches instead of using canned goods. Cindy Vogelsberger, known as Miss Cindy by Glenshire Elementary students, has helped with food production in the kitchen for two years. She says the kitchen staff tries hard to provide meals with the nutritional ingredients children need that taste delicious too. The school has weekly lunch menus that cost $2.25 with options like baked chicken tenders, chefs choice sandwiches, smart wedge pizzas, all served with a side of fruit or vegetables. Children can also pick up a happy sack lunch that has a sandwich or a yogurt lunch, Vogelsberger says. They love it, Vogelsberger says. Were fortunate that these kids really like this stuff.Forty percent of children dont eat breakfast in the morning, Whisler says.Glenshire Elementary School addresses the morning meal and offers a hot breakfast for students for just $1.25, Vogelsberger says. Of the 485 students at Glenshire Elementary School, 140 children buy lunch at school everyday, says Kathleen Gauthier, principal at Glenshire Elementary School. Gauthier says she hopes the children will learn healthy eating habits based on the example at school. Soda is banned at Kings Beach Elementary School and the use of food as a reward from teachers is also not allowed, Whisler says.Experts say parents and children have to work together. The technique of teaching kids clean plate or no dessert isnt the best way to convince kids to eat their dinner. Instead, Whisler suggests parents throw the cookie on the plate with the kids meal and teach children about hunger cues. But sometimes, families can do all the right things and (the child) can still be overweight, Gauthier says.



Children arent running around playing a game of capture the flag, riding their bikes, or climbing on the monkey bars as often as they should to get enough daily exercise. Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day, and by the time they graduate high school theyll have spent more hours consumed by the television than in class, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.In a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Internet is the latest medium being utilized to advertise junk food. Web sites are now offering advergames to entice children to play Chips Ahoy! Soccer Shootout and to e-mail their friends about junk food products. Gauthier says media entertainment is the number one reason children arent as fit as they should be. I just think that movement helps so much with brain development, Gauthier says.Gauthier walks a quick lap around the school each day with her students before they have lunch. She says scheduling recess before lunch time is better for youngsters because theyre able to sit still and eat their food.Gauthier says she has noticed children arent getting enough unstructured time outdoors. She says she is planning on introducing the book, Lost Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, into classrooms to encourage more play time enjoying the mountain scenery.Whisler says children need to be active, and the group of girls who sit and chat on the playground at recess doesnt count. Most school P.E. classes are only three days a week and that is not enough, she says. With lack of physical activity comes low self-esteem, which may cause more severe psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder as children enter their teenage years, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.You need to make them (children) feel like rock stars, Whisler says. You need to empower them.

The New York Times best-selling book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, gained a blitz of media attention when author Eric Schlosser exposed secrets of the fast-food industry and wrote about obesity in American culture in his popular 2001 book. Schlossers story is being made into a feature film with an all-star ensemble cast featuring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Wilmer Valderrama. Actor Greg Kinnear plays the role of a marketing executive of a fast-food chain called Mickeys, home of The Big One burger. Contaminated meat is getting into the frozen burger patties, forcing Kinnears character to investigate the meat facilities. The Fast Food Nation movie hits theaters November 17 check out the Web site, http://www.youtube.com for a movie trailer.



The Dietary Guidelines federal nutrition policy, last updated in January 2005, is being replaced with MyPyramid as an educational tool to help consumers make healthy food and physical activity choices. The newly renovated pyramid is kid-friendly with simple nutrition advice to make sure children maintain a balanced diet.MyPyramid has daily food suggestions: Make half of your grains whole. Eat at least three ounces a day. Vary your veggies. Focus on fruit. Get your calcium rich foods. Go lean with protein. Find your balance between food and physical activity.

Getting kids to eat their peas and carrots can take some clever cooking. In a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fifth-graders were less willing to try the vegetables and fruit provided by the school as free snacks. Five Mississippi schools in the 2004-2005 school year offered kids apples, tangerines, pears, carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas. A lack of interest in new foods is one of the explanations in response to the findings.Presenting food creatively and involving kids in the kitchen helps raise their interest surrounding meal time. I give appetizers, says Jill Whisler, MS, RD, clinical/wellness dietitian at Tahoe Forest Center for Health and Sports Performance.Whisler says she gives her kids hummus with carrots to munch on or edamame to curb their appetites before dinner.-The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You eat a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables and not a lot of candy unless your mommy and daddy say its okay. Karlee Streit, 7, second-grader at Glenshire Elementary School Not getting fat. Dont worry, I play football.Scott Womack, 10, fifth-grader at Glenshire Elementary School About eating right.Jack Brooks, 9, fourth-grader at Glenshire Elementary School

Heres a classic after-school snack recipe kids can make in just five minutes.ANTS ON A LOG Serves 2 Ingredients:2 celery sticks6 tbsp. peanut butter2 tbsp. raisins Utensils:Knife ( Youll need help from an adult assistant.) Directions:Wash the celery and cut it into five-inch pieces. Spread the peanut butter in the u-shaped part of celery, from one end to the other. Press raisins gently into the peanut butter. Ants on a Log tastes great with a cup of milk to drink.For more fun, easy recipe ideas check out, http://www.kidshealth.org or http://www.mealsmatter.org.


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