Healthy eating

Exercise: Leading By Example

By Lina Younes

How often do we give our children advice to adopt healthy eating habits and lifestyles, yet our actions send another message? To say that “actions speak louder than words” is not just another cliché. Our actions, good and bad, can be even more influential on our children’s outlook on life than endless preaching. In this case, I want to emphasize the need for us to become more active to encourage children to exercise more as well. Let us lead by example.

I still remember as I was growing up, I was often outside with my friends or riding my bike after finishing my homework. During the summer, I was usually outside “from dawn to dusk” with my friends. However, now things have changed. I’ve even seen the difference with my own children. They prefer indoor activities over “the great outdoors.” I guess that I’m largely responsible for that.

Statistics show that childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the last three decades. Childhood obesity has led to numerous other health problems in children from diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, to name a few. Healthy eating habits AND physical activity are the best practices to address the issue with long term positive effects. We cannot leave it to the kids alone. These are good habits that we all should adopt, children and adults, as a family to have a better quality of life.

Increasingly, there are new opportunities to make this family project fun. How about encouraging children to walk or bike more? How about encouraging children in your community to get involved in the Let’s Move Initiative? Just simple steps can go a long way to get more active. Physical activity does not require a gym membership. Sports, gardening, hiking, bicycling, and good old walking can be equally effective. And if you enjoy these activities as a family you get multiple rewards.

Since we’re celebrating Children’s Health Month during October, wouldn’t this be a good time to start? Do you have any family activities planned? Please share them with us.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Planting Seeds of Good Health

By Christine Zachek

I don’t pretend to have a green thumb, but I accepted the challenge of growing a small tomato plant in my windowsill this summer. It is satisfying to eat something fresh that I grew with my own hands. Consumption of fruits and vegetables are far below what is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines. On average, children consume only 64% of the recommended level of fruit and 46% of the recommended vegetables.

The challenge that many urban communities face is lack of access to affordable healthy foods. USDA estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. These so-called “food deserts” often have more convenience stores and fast-food restaurants than supermarkets or grocery stores. Fresh fruits and vegetables are priced high, if they are available at all.

The point of all this? Lack of healthy choices leads to poor nutrition, with implications being that nearly one out of every three children is overweight or obese. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign calls on the nation to eliminate the problem of childhood obesity in one generation.

My next challenge: cultivating a plot in a community garden.

Community gardens can provide children with good food to combat obesity and they can transform unused vacant lots into positive and productive space, even an oasis for residents to enjoy nature, meet and work together. Care must be taken to ensure that the soil is free from environmental contaminants, so that the food grown there is safe to eat. EPA offers tips and assistance to help communities with this effort. Read more about starting your own community garden.

Planting the seeds of good health and community through urban gardens is a step in the right direction to providing our children with nutritious foods and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

About the author: Christine Zachek works in the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sugar Rush

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been giving people quite the scare for some time now. It is a belief that the introduction of this product into our diet was the reason for increasing obesity in America; that the simple elimination of the product in our diets would make us lose that extra weight the American public has gained. Like many other Americans I believed this myth that HFCS was worse for you than the other sugars out there: honey, cane sugar, and brown sugar. But like many Americans, I was wrong. I used to read every label that I thought may have HFCS in it, and if it did I would put it back down and refrain from consuming the “evil” substance.

Just this year I have learned that HFCS is not as harmful as I thought it was. However, like other sugars, high fructose corn syrup should only be ingested in small amounts. The main reasoning for manufacturers to use HFCS as opposed to other sugars is that it is cheaper .

When choosing what food to eat, it helps to know what you are actually eating. Some foods that you wouldn’t expect to have sugar in it do, and thus it is still important to be aware of what contents you are actually eating. The best ways to go about doing this are to eat foods that are in their most natural form. This includes organic produce and excludes packaged foods. If you are choosing a food or drink item that has a variety of ingredients it may be important to read the ingredients and nutrition facts as HFCS is becoming more prevalent in foods that were once exempt of sugar additives.

The foods that many kids, and adults, find to be the most delicious are usually those foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Kids especially are drawn to the sugary drinks and foods that are becoming more prevalent in our grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Persuading children to eat fresher and healthier foods may be difficult, but will prove to be more beneficial for their health now and in the future. It is important to remember that high fructose corn syrup is still a type of sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART I: Healthy Diets

For the past two years I have been volunteering at a local elementary school in my hometown. Only recently did I have a chance to see the cafeteria. Scanning the trays I saw the “typical” cafeteria foods : pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. Rarely did I see fruits and vegetables, but I always saw some sort of sweet on nearly every tray in the cafeteria.

This is part of the reason why there is a childhood obesity epidemic taking over the county. Kids are simply eating the foods that they like best, most of these foods being processed and lacking the essential nutrients that their bodies need.

Unhealthy diets do not only reside in the school, however. With the increasing amounts of microwavable meals and packaged foods, a home-cooked meal is quickly becoming a rarity and a thing of the past. We are trading health for convenience. Popping something into the microwave or oven takes less energy and time than making a home-cooked meal. The nutrients that we could be getting from fruits and vegetable are overshadowed by these extremely processed foods. Theses foods are often high in fat, sugars, and calories and lacking important nutrients that aren’t only harmful to the health of children, but to adults as well. Adults must then serve as an example. If they are eating well then their children will eat well also.

Children are almost completely reliant on their authority figures to provide them with appropriate meals. Therefore, it is important that we go to those authority figures, the school administrators and the parents, to encourage healthy diets for children. There must be a shift in the way that children are eating. No more should their staple foods be that of pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. More fresh and prepared meals must be given to children.

It may take a little more time and effort to make home-cooked meals or pack a child’s lunch, but the small amount of time and effort added to preparing healthy foods should not be overridden by the health benefits. Also, the packing of a school lunch and preparation of a meal can be a learning experience for children as they can learn how to cook and pack their own lunches while learning about what foods are wholesome.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cupcakes or Carrots?

Taking full advantage of last weekend’s surprisingly warm fall weather, I made a trip to Old Town Alexandria. What a perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon. With all the walking I did, I needed something to quell my unruly stomach grumbles. I decided to allow myself to succumb to one sweet in particular: cupcakes. The place was busy with lots of children eagerly waiting. I almost thought about buying a dozen. Then my college wallet kicked in and I decided to purchase just one. However, after my return home, I got to thinking about what I had eaten that day and realized: A.) Yes, that cupcake was good and B.) I hadn’t eaten the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables for the day! While I like a piece of broccoli about as much as the next 8 year old, I really try my hardest to get in as much fruits and veggies as I can. Fruit can easily be enjoyed like a dessert! And vegetables can be eaten with all sorts of dishes. Here are some of my other thoughts:

  • One way to really teach and attract kids to healthy items is to get them involved in the process. It helps you out and makes your food healthier at the same time! By safely allowing older kids to help or just observe you peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables, it will help them feel a part of the process and removes dirt, bacteria, and pesticides.
  • I also know that water is appealing to kids and getting them involved in washing fruits and vegetables can be easy. The sound itself of the water in the sink has a calming affect and removing traces of chemicals and bacteria from your food will make it safer and taste even better.
  • Also, selecting a variety of foods can be helpful to engage kids so they don’t have to eat cooked carrots every night of the week. A variety will give you a better mix of nutrients.

All in all, vegetables and fruits really can be just as appealing as a cupcake! Check out other healthy, sensible food tips. Use the occasional cupcake as a treat and give kids the chance and opportunity to love eating fruits and veggies!

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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