ALBANY, N.Y., – As children head back to school, an Albany Medical Center nutrition expert is offering parents guidance on healthy eating, which she says is critical for a child’s optimal development, growth and learning.
“Encouraging healthy lifestyle habits, especially smart eating and daily physical activity, is one of the most important things a parent can do to help their child thrive inside and outside of the classroom,” said Jennifer Lindstrom, M.D., medical director of the Bariatric Surgery Center at Albany Med. “Parents influence what children eat, so it’s very important that parents understand how critical the diet is to their child’s overall health.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. The obesity rate in children aged 6-11 in the United State has increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. Additionally, obesity rates in adolescents aged 12-19 have also dramatically increased, from five percent to nearly 21 percent in the same period.
Obese children can develop high cholesterol or blood pressure, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems, including stigmatization or poor self-esteem. Children who are obese are more likely to develop risk factors that could lead to more serious health problems as adults, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Dr. Lindstrom offers these tips, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to help parents choose healthy foods and drinks for their children.
Healthy Eating Recommendations for Children:
· No more than 4-6 ounces of juice (100 % juice preferred) consumption per day. Many fruit drinks contain only 10 percent fruit and do not provide the nutrients found in 100% juices. Due to fruit juice processing, the benefits of fiber are lost and can only be found by digesting whole fruits and vegetables.
· 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are recommended, as canned items may contain excessive amounts of salt and sugar.
· Whole wheat and whole grain carbohydrates, such as whole grain rice and pasta. A serving size of cooked rice or pasta is half a cup. Restaurants can serve up to five cups of pasta at one meal, which equals 10 servings.
· Low-sugar cereal. These cereals include those that have less than 1 gram of saturated fat, zero grams trans-fat, 12 grams or less of added sugars, and less than 210 mg of sodium. Many cereals targeted to children have more sugar than three cookies combined, which is over 22 grams of sugar.
· 2-3 servings a day of low-fat milk and dairy products. Low-fat 1% milk is a good choice, but for more protein and higher levels of calcium, soy milk is better.
· Lean meats with the appropriate portion sizes for a child’s age. This can range from two ounces for a 2-year-old to six ounces a day for an 18-year-old.
· Baked or broiled fish two times a week.
· Fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks.
Food/Drinks to Avoid:
· Sugar-sweetened beverages that have more than 10 calories per 8 ounces, including sports drinks, sugared soda, or sweetened ice teas.
· Snacks high in salt (crackers, pretzels, chips, etc.) and sugar (fruit snacks, cookies, etc.).
· Fried and breaded meats should be avoided due to the extra calories and fat they offer.
· Candies/sweets, decedent desserts, or other high caloric foods (fries, hamburgers, etc.) These types of foods should only be consumed on occasion.
Physical Activity Recommendations:
· Children should participate in an hour of moderate physical activity daily.
· Limit inactive time to no more than two hours a day, which does not include homework time.
· Avoid placing a television set in a child’s bedroom, as this increases the risk of obesity by 31 percent.
“While parents may seek out sales to help defray the expense of buying back to school necessities, in many instances, the food items on sale are not the healthiest choices for children’s lunch boxes,” said Dr. Lindstrom. “As parents set new routines, the start of school is a perfect time to institute healthy eating.”
Dr. Lindstrom notes that oftentimes parents think that juices, or sports drinks are good alternatives to sugary drinks like soda, but they too contain high levels of sugars and salts. The same applies for granola or breakfast bars and popcorn or pretzels. If unsure about the nutritional value of a food item while food shopping, most large supermarket chains employ an on-site dietician. Dr. Lindstrom urges parents to seek out the dietician to support healthy food choices.
Data published in 2010 by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40 percent of daily calories for children and adolescents aged 2-18 years, significantly reducing the quality of their diet. About half of these empty calories come from soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk.
For more information about pediatric obesity and services offered at Albany Med’s Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, please visit http://www.amc.edu/Patient/