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College of Human Ecology

Kids' Weight Problems a Shared Responsibility

Friday, January 28, 2005

MANHATTAN, Kan. - A United States Department of Agriculture report indicates that 12 percent of Kansas' children age five and under are overweight. Seventeen percent of all children in the state are considered overweight.

Kansas' statistics place the state slightly above national averages, said Sandy Procter, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition educator.

"There are a number of reasons why we worry about overweight and children. A major concern is health. The extra pounds make children candidates for what were once considered 'adult diseases,' such as Type 2 diabetes; elevated blood fats; weight-related asthma and arthritic joints," she said.

Procter, who is a registered dietitian and coordinator of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in the state, said that children's weight problems and health issues must be considered a shared responsibility.

"Parents and children are key, but a school board that trims physical education classes in an effort to boost test scores would bear part of the responsibility. So would builders and urban planners who distance schools from residential areas yet fail to plan for sidewalks or a safe environment so that children can walk to and from school," she said.

Food marketing strategies and the ready availability of calorie-dense foods are issues, but parents have the first responsibility, said Procter, who cited a division of responsibility between parents and children.

Parents' responsibilities include the following:

* Choose and prepare food for regular meals and snacks. Children's stomachs are small, so they need to eat regularly. Supplemental snacks are important, but they need not be high in calories or fat, Procter said.

* Make eating times pleasant by setting aside time for meals together and limiting distractions. Turn off the radio or television and let family members, including children, talk about their day.

* Model healthful eating habits - eat a variety of foods at meals and snacks, but avoid "grazing" on food or beverages.

"Children model parents' behaviors," said Procter, who urged parents to set a good example.

Procter credits research on the division of responsibility in feeding children to Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and licensed social worker who has focused her career on food and family issues.

"Children also have a responsibility for what Satter describes as 'eating competently,'" Procter said. "If, for example, parents can learn to provide healthful foods and allow children to choose from those foods, children typically learn to eat competently - to be responsible for how they much they eat or whether they eat at all. After all, infants naturally stop eating when they are full."

"Making an issue of food or forcing children to clean their plate isn't recommended," she said. "If a child turns up his or her nose at broccoli, don't make an issue out of it. Wait a few days and offer it again, perhaps in a different form, such as raw broccoli florettes with a low-fat dip."

Involving children in meal preparation can help them learn about healthy foods. And, when time is short, quick-cook methods -- stir- frying a meat and vegetable combination or grilling -- can help families get dinner on the table in less time than it takes to drive to a fast food restaurant, Procter said.

Personally, Procter said she uses a slow cooker that requires a few minutes of preparation early in the day, but offers a ready meal after work, when she may be tired or in a hurry to attend a family activity.

Foods prepared at home typically are lower in fat, sodium, and sugar, she said.

Taking a walk or a bike ride after dinner can add healthful physical activity. Indoor games such as a recent revival of "Twister" or stretching to music also count as exercise.

"Make it fun. For health, the newly released 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children and 30 or more minutes most days for adults," Procter said.

For more information on nutrition and health, including basic cooking tips and recipes for easy meals, contact the local K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu and click on Health and Nutrition.

This article was posted on Friday, January 28, 2005, and is filed under College News, Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health.