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Fight childhood obesity with healthy choices

Carbonated beverages, flavored waters and sports drinks have a lot calories but little nutrients. Even 100 percent fruit juices are packed with sugar. Bea Haines, Goodhue County’s WIC coordinator, says plain water remains the best choice for children to stay hydrated. (Photo by Debora Cartagena, CDC)

By Bea Haines, Goodhue County WIC Coordinator

Childhood obesity continues to be a growing public health concern in our nation. Overweight children and adults are at higher risk of experiencing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

In addition, these children are more at risk for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and other health problems. The economic impact to families and our healthcare system is significant. Nationally, costs related to obesity are estimated at $150 billion per year.

The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is working to educate clients regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy weight from birth.

Breast milk is the best food for infants through their first year. This provides the exact combination of nutrients your baby needs to grow and to protect against certain illnesses.

After age one, a well-balanced diet including whole grains, lean meats and proteins and plenty of fruits and vegetables go a long way in maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, two servings of dairy are needed, and after age two, skim milk and low fat cheese are the best options. All of these foods are available on the WIC program and are believed to be having an effect on reducing obesity rates in our population.

Establishing a family mealtime routine also can foster healthier overall eating habits. Meals and snacks should be consumed at close to the same time each day and eaten at the table. Children also eat better when adults are present and the same foods are served to all. Role modeling healthy eating is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children.

Beverages also can play a significant part in calorie consumption. Even “healthy” choices like 100 percent fruit juice contain high amounts of sugar and should be limited to 4 ounces a day. Whole milk, while beneficial for children under age two, contains high amounts of fat that simply is not needed for older children. It is very filling and can reduce a child’s appetite for healthy foods.

Carbonated beverages, sports drinks, flavored waters and fruit punches are high in calories and low in nutrients. Growing evidence indicates that they are contributing to the obesity rates. In addition, sugary beverages play a role in causing tooth decay.

Plain water is the perfect alternative to sugary drinks. Try keeping a jug of water in the refrigerator or adding ice to your child’s cup. Slices of lemon, lime or cucumber also can add appeal. Again, role modeling by drinking water instead of something flavored can teach your child to make healthy choices.

Finally, increasing your child’s activity level and limiting “screen time” is another way to encourage healthy weight. Screen time should be limited to no more than one hour a day for pre-schoolers. Each family should decide what is right for them, but try turning off the TV occasionally so that viewing does not simply become a habit. Again, model the behaviors you want for your kids. Make a plan for getting outside and doing something active.

The WIC program of Goodhue County can help you meet nutritional goals for your family. This federally funded program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Health and services are available here in Red Wing, with additional sites in Zumbrota, Cannon Falls and Kenyon. If you are pregnant, recently had a baby or have children under the age of five, you may be eligible for WIC. You will need to meet annual income guidelines but many working families do qualify.

The WIC program is located in the Colvill Family Center. Please call the WIC office at 651-385-4782 for more information or to schedule an appointment at any of the county sites.