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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

More Peas & Apples Please

Published July 16, 2009 1:06 PM by Amy McGuire

Like many kids, I hated peas when I was young. I couldn't stand the "squish" that inevitably took place between my teeth. But that wasn't the real problem. I attended a Catholic elementary school where the nuns stood guard at the cafeteria trash can to ensure students ate every single piece of food on their lunch plates. My solution: when I finished drinking my chocolate milk, I would spoon the peas into my empty milk carton (underneath the table so the nuns couldn't see). It worked ... for awhile.

I remember the day I got busted when the nun shook my milk carton and discovered an entire serving of peas. I just knew where I was going to go when I died. So I decided to enact plan B the next time peas were served: I would swallow each pea one at a time sort of like a pill to avoid the squish effect.

Today, I am proud to say I have overcome my pea aversion and learned to love the little green balls. And learning is possible, but only through change; therein lies the challenge ... and the solution. It saddens me deeply when I see an overweight child, and especially a child who is fighting obesity not to mention fighting the name-calling on the playground.

Across the country, leading healthcare professionals, educators and lawmakers are encouraging better food choices. Research shows five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day can lower the risk of developing one of the biggest killers in America - obesity. It is a health issue that seems preventable. With the abundance of fast food restaurants on every corner and commercialized on every station, it's no surprise children eat what they see in front of them. Eating naturally healthy foods does not come naturally to many Americans.

The Obama administration has prioritized healthy eating by committing $3.2 million to "specialty crops" of fruits and vegetables. The goal is increased vegetable consumption; the sad truth is only one in four of us are eating the daily recommended five a day.

According to Charles Homer, MD, MPH, president and CEO of the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality, "One of the challenges of childhood obesity is getting health insurers to reimburse primary care providers for services. Obesity often begins in childhood and can lead to lifelong medical, social and emotional problems, as well as increased healthcare cost."

In the U.S., approximately 25 million children are overweight. And it's not just a problem in the U.S. Junk food, lack of exercise and the growth of a work culture that has threatened traditional mealtimes also have increased the rates of obesity in France during the past 10 years. But France may be the first country in the European Union to see a leveling off of childhood obesity, according to the results of two surveys conducted in May 2008.

The change (there's that word) comes after the introduction in 2001 of a National Nutrition and Health Programme that included several obesity-fighting public health initiatives. One of France's initiatives took place in the school cafeteria.

If you're a student in France, here's what you will be eating for lunch today: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs, Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil, couscous, organic yogurt and an apple. In most parts of the U.S., that would be described as a gourmet. But in France, it's called a government-sponsored school lunch.

Both France and Japan are beginning to take school lunch seriously. The mid-day meal is supposed to teach students good manners, good taste and good nutrition. Both countries spend more on school lunches than the U.S., and both use school meals as an educational opportunity.

In one U.S. public school, lunch cost $1.80 with the following choices: pepperoni pizza with whole grain crust or deli turkey and cheese on bun with lettuce and tomato; choice of two: whole kernel corn, broccoli spears, tossed salad, chilled peaches or fresh fruit. Is it possible our children have too many choices? Should we give children a choice or should we make them eat their peas? Just as important, shouldn't we remove the junk food options in our middle and high schools?

According to the CDC, in 2007, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent. Thirty states had prevalence equal to or greater than 25 percent; three of these states (Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30 percent.

Preventing or possibly eliminating child obesity shouldn't be a complex issue, but it does require change. Breaking this issue into smaller bites, we as adults can serve our children better food choices by feeding one healthy meal at a time, one apple a day or even one pea at a time. It just might keep obesity away. Today, ask a child what his/her favorite fruit is and his/her favorite vegetable. Their answer may become the catalyst for greatly deserved change.

To read more about this healthcare challenge and earn 1 contact hour, read the continuing education article, Childhood Obesity and take the test.



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