On March 17, the Hunger-Free Kids Act was released, with the plan to provide $3.2 billion towards “Promoting health and reducing childhood obesity.” This would be administered through the Department of Agriculture. The Program aims to overhaul school lunches, and develop national standards for revenue generating foods such as vending machines. Since childhood obesity is at crisis levels, and since most children with obesity become adults with obesity, I feel this is a good place to start.
I am currently supporting efforts to reduce fruit juices in daycare centers. In Arizona, childcare centers are allowed to give fruit juice as a substitute for whole fruit. This exposes children to drinks that are high in sugar, and low in fiber. Such foods tend to promote obesity and dental cavities. Studies show that people who consume fruit juice prior to a meal will eat more food at the meal than those who drink water. The added sugar primes the body for a larger meal. In effect, kids get the calories from the juice, plus are hungrier, and eat more food at the meal. Fruit juice contains more sugar and calories than an equal serving size of cola!
My recommendations for the Hunger-Free Kids Act relating to childhood obesity are as follows:
1. Encourage the intake of 5 fruits and vegetables daily. Making these foods readily available will crowd out high calorie foods.
2. Eliminate sugar containing drinks and fruit juices, including 100% fruit juice in schools and vending machines. Instead give whole fruit. This would also encourage food producers to supply inexpensive and non-perishable sources of whole fruit.
3. Require that vending machines contain foods that promote weight maintenance, such as those higher in protein and fiber, and lower in sugars, flour, and fats. We have developed FoodGauge, a program to identify such foods. This tool is available on iphone and Blackberry for download. Some great snacks include high protein bars, edamame (soy beans), and beef jerky.
4. Early in high school, children should be educated to identify the early signs of weight gain. I advocate that once fully grown, young adults should “NEVER BUY BIGGER PANTS.” If the pants are tight, it’s time to exercise more and cut out some of the snacks and high calorie drinks. A campaign to NEVER BUY BIGGER PANTS will promote obesity prevention, since adults tend to gain weight as they age.