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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children


Simple changes can help kids avoid obesity


Childhood obesity is now a big concern following the launch of the Let’s Move campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama. During the last 30 years, obesity rates among children have tripled, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate we have reached the point where one in three American children are overweight or obese. Not only is the problem costly — an estimated $150 billion a year is spent on obesity-related health care costs — but childhood obesity reduces quality of life.


Obese children are at a much greater risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and asthma. Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that from 1988 to 1994, about 11 percent of children in the U.S. had chronic diseases. This rate has increased to 25 percent in the period from 2000 to 2006. Data suggests that obesity may shorten the lives of children today by two to five years compared to their parents. Lynda Johnson, nutrition and health education specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, believes that much of the weight gain and chronic health problems among children could be prevented with increased physical activity and improved nutrition.


The national Let’s Move campaign encourages schools, families and communities to take simple steps to reverse these negative health trends. Johnson emphasizes that parents have a tremendous influence on what children eat and how active they are, however, with busy lifestyles, being a healthy role model can be a challenge. Implementing small changes in diet and physical activity — rather than trying to alter everything at once — is easier to manage and leads to greater long-term success in maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.


There are many guidelines to help children develop healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight. Parents may feel overwhelmed on how to begin, so Johnson suggests starting with these simple changes:


  • Serve kid-friendly portions. With today’s larger plates, it is easy to for children to get into the habit of eating portions that are way too large. Studies find preschoolers eat more when large servings are on their plate.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and drink more water. Children can consume too many extra calories from soda, sweet tea and fruit drinks. Drinking a 12-ounce can of soda each day could lead to 10 extra pounds in a year. Serve these sugary drinks as occasional treats, rather than every day.
  • To boost nutrition and reduce calories, fill half your plate and your child’s plate with a rainbow of colorful vegetables. Ideas for adding more vegetables to your diet can be found online at


The Let’s Move campaign also encourages physical activity to help balance calories. Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of active play most days of the week. It’s also important to help children avoid too much sedentary time with the TV or computer. The website Bam! Body and Mind provides creative ideas to help children have fun, stay active and be healthy. Here are some simple ways parents can help kids reduce screen time:


  • Take the TV and computer out of your child’s bedroom.
  • Set clear limits on how much time your kids can spend watching TV and playing on the computer — and be a good role model by also following those limits.
  • Don’t keep the TV on all the time, only watch specific shows.
  • Create a list of fun, physical activities to do instead of watching TV or using the computer.


Go online to to learn more about improving your home environment and starting healthy habits that will lead to a healthy way of living. For more information, contact Lynda Johnson at 660-584-3658 or, or visit


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Last update: Tuesday, January 11, 2011