Parents focus on nutrition and play to keep children healthy, active
Noelle and Kopen Kassis of West Ashley are healthy eaters.
Their mom, Amy Kassis, tries to make eating food and getting exercise fun for them. "Parents should make it fun. Kids like guidance," she says. "It can be as simple as ‘go outside and pick out your favorite tree."
Noelle, 6, and Kopen, 2, consider fruit both dessert and a delicious snack.
"Fruit is their go-to food," Kassis says. '(Noelle) loves rainbows, so when we eat, we're making sure we eat the colors of the rainbow. Vibrant foods have nutrition and make it fun for their plates."
Parents, doctors and nutritionists want to encourage kids to become more fit and healthy since children are rapidly becoming overweight and obese.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2009-10, 12.5 million adolescents and children in the U.S. were obese. Among those 2- to 19-year-old obese children, 7 million were boys.
Janet Carter, a pediatric dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina and the coordinator of the Heart Health Program, says there are several reasons for the surge in obese and overweight children.
"The kids are in a toxic food environment," she says. "There is unhealthy food that is cheap and readily available to them all the time."
Mike Campbell, co-chair of the communications and marketing committee for Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina and the chair-elect of Eat Smart, Move More Charleston Tri-County, believes children today eat too much fast food.
"The fast-food craze is killing us. It's made it easy for us as a society to kind of buy into it," he says.
Fast food used to be a treat when Campbell was a child, but today it's the go-to meal. "Thirty-seven percent of kids choose McDonald's as their fast-food choice and $3 billion a year is spent on Happy Meals," he says. "One in 10 kids picks a healthy choice even when McDonald's have the healthy apples."
While many believe that fast food should be completely cut out from a child's diet, others believe it should be kept at a minimum.
Jennifer Bilbro, founder of OutToEatWithKids.com, has been compiling healthy children's menus for years. She features healthier and economical restaurants that are part of the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell and Healthy Dining.
She believes many fast-food chains have been coming up with healthier options for children.
"Chick-fil-A is a great example. They work really hard to tweak their kids' menu. They have their nutritional information available on the site," the Mount Pleasant mom of two says. "They offer grilled chicken nuggets as an alternative to children. They offer children's meals that are fun and exciting in addition to being healthy."
Bilbro recommends parents ask the server at a restaurant for grilled chicken instead of fried chicken or steamed broccoli instead of French fries to cut out calories, sodium and fat. "Parents have to be proactive about it and ask," she says. "All it takes is one extra sentence to make that change happen."
Carter says children today are not moving as much as they should. "In our culture right now, there's no need for us to be physically active," she says. "We don't have to walk to school or ride our bike because we can get a ride."
Dr. Ann Kulze, local nutrition and wellness expert and author of the book "Eat Right for Life," agrees that children's physical activity level has decreased over the years.
"Eighty-five percent of the commercials that are directed to children are fast food (related). Kids engage in eating while watching TV, which is mindless eating."
Campbell, who works with the Charleston Marathon and its Youth Marathon and other local organizations that help children become more active and healthy, suggests children and their parents engage in physical activity together.
"Instead of going to the tube or computers after you eat, put down the electronics and walk for 30 minutes,' he says. "Just walk and talk. No iPod, no music."
He says when families engage in physical activity together, it's not only good for them physically but is a chance to spend quality time together.
"Play games with your kids 10 more minutes today than yesterday," he says. "Challenge yourself ... eat small, move more. We forget about the movement; they go hand in hand. When I move more, it's almost tied in my mind to eating small. I want to eat better when I'm active. One seems to feed the other and it helps you physically, mentally and emotionally."
Melanie Pool of Goose Creek is a mom volunteer who teaches yoga at her daughter's school and at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry. Her daughter, Emily, is 8 and her stepson, Stephen, is 13.
"I believe in fitness as a way of life, not something that I do once or twice a week at a gym. The world is our gym. We like to get out as a family, riding bikes in our neighborhood, which has great biking trails," she says.
"I take my daughter on almost daily 20- to 30-minute walks and practice yoga with her. We are so lucky that we live in a place where the weather is so mild most of the year, and that there are so many awesome outdoor activities available in the Charleston area."