Program designed to teach lifelong nutritional, exercise habits

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON -- They're coming after your toddler.
And indeed, nothing short of parental guidance will prevent the machine from crunching up more Generation X-ers into its exercise and nutritional elevator ride to nowhere.
Who are they?
While coming in many different forms, fast food restaurants, computer game manufacturers and cable companies may comprise the guts of the machine's engine.
What do they do?
Armed with heavy-duty advertising wallets, they are brain-washing their target audience with happy meals, Playstations and nonsense cartoons and shows.
What are the results?
OK, a short list might include some of the following abnormal behaviors and problems: High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, aggressive behavior problems and a myriad of social problems and disorders.
Now it appears the only plan of action is fighting like the dickens for those not old enough to know the many disguises of the devil.
Susan Noble and Besty Redman are mad as heck and rising up against the “evil underground” by teaching child care providers with new ways of thinking.
“Color Me Healthy” is an educational yet fun-and-game approach to getting preschoolers moving and eating healthy. Fifty-five childcare providers attended the workshop last weekend at the O.P. Owens building to learn new ways to make good food and exercise appealing, enticing and for some, an option with no negative consequences.
“Research says that eating and exercise habits are set early in life,” said Noble, Robeson County's Agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. “Early patterns of obesity and literacy are established in childhood. Eight of ten leading causes of death are related to diet.”
The “Color Me Healthy” packet includes an instructional manual, several posters, a CD and cassette tape all with idea after idea for day-care providers.
Noble showed her audience how to take imaginary vacations, how flash cards, circle time, songs and games can foster the ideas of the program. She said the kit's easy-use methods takes simple ideas and adds a twist of fun to relay important messages.
“The easier it is to use, the more likely they are to use it,” Noble said. “We modeled a number of activities, yet this is so well put together that all anyone really needs is the packet.”
The program takes an in-depth look at the food pyramid, teaching children names, colors, shapes, sizes and origins of items in the six food groups. Portion size is likewise an issue.
“What we try to tell everyone is that there is no bad foods, it's the quantities we eat,” Noble said. “Our real problem is serving size. A serving of rice, for instance, is one-half a cup and a serving of meat is the size of your palm or a deck of cards.”
Noble said most get enough of the bread, cereal and pasta group (6 servings per day for 2- to 6-year-olds), in the milk, yogurt and cheese group (2 servings) and meat, poultry, fish and nuts group (2 servings), but the vegetable group (3 servings) and fruit group (2 servings) are the downfall for most.
She said introducing fruits, vegetables and new foods to young children is key. In addition, she said showing is better than telling.
“They follow parental example, so if we turn our noses up at carrots, so will they,” Noble said. “We are their role models. We have to let them see a healthy mind-set with a fun approach. They need to know that variety is important. With children, though, we don't try to beat them over the head and say, 'You have to eat five of this a day.' Rather, we show them an interesting and explorative approach. ” How bad are the problems facing young toddlers? Perhaps a look at recent trends may provide some insight.
n Obesity has doubled over the last 30 years.
n 1 in 5 U.S. children are overweight.
n In North Carolina, 25 percent of children have a weight above the 95th percentile.
n It takes as many as 10 repeated exposures to try a new food before a child acceptance of it is achieved.
n Today's children eat more than ever before, with diets high in fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar and low in calcium. For example, the total fat content needed per day is met in a Big Mac, fries and soda. So don't even think about supersizing it.
n School cafeterias are following the fast food restaurant trend in duplicating foods served.
n Children seem capable of regulating their calorie intake, however, as they age, environmental and psychological factors can override previous sensitivity to internal food-regulating cues.
n Coca-Cola spends $277 million annually on advertising, Burger King $407 million and McDonald's $571 million, while the Got-Milk campaign spends $29.8 million.
Noble said that she doesn't feel those at the workshop will implement every idea, although she feels encouraged most will used a big chunk of the total package.
“We use lots of music, activities that are uplifting and hope to get them to take advantage of circle time, one of the main components of any day and a time when children are most receptive,” she said. “Some of it's getting them to notice things -- like the need for water each day; that fruits and vegetables can be spiced up; to incorporate different colors into their meals; that children have to be shown things in fun ways.”
Move it
The program's other emphasis is on exercise, another trend in the U.S. that isn't exactly making worldwide headlines.
Americans weigh more than any of their peers and have become obsessed couch potatoes. American children spend more time watching television, video tapes and playing video games than doing anything else except sleeping.
Schools are not promoting physical activity much either. It's not like it was 10 or 20 years ago. High school students need just one physical education class to graduate. In lower grades, physical education requirements are either one semester a school year or on a two-day per week basis.
Extra emphasis has been put on reading, writing, science, computer and math skills at the expense of exercise time. Sure, every school has athletes, but this doesn't address the issue of physical education and activity for the many overweight Marys or out-of-shape Tommys that will never wear a varsity jersey. If everyone needs an individualized educational plan (IEP in school jargon), shouldn't each student also have a physical activity plan of action?
“Color Me Healthy” was put together by the joint efforts of North Carolina State and North Carolina A & T with help from the N.C. Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Health.
These groups say that simple is sometimes better than complex. The philosophy is that teachers simply need to show a little creativity with games, skills and activities.
For instance, whatever happened to hula-hoops, jump ropes or relay games? Kids love 'em as much as they ever have.
And for that matter, when was the last time anyone noticed a regular runner or walker that had a severe weight problem? Free play in gym class these days means students don't have to be moving, and thus won't do anything to break a sweat. “Color Me Healthy” invites children to go through the motions of a day at the beach, a visit to the farm or a journey up a mountain. Walked and talked through by day-care providers, this sets a tone both physically and mentally for young children.
The program also uses a play pyramid to show children activities they need to do every day, often, or sometimes, and also activities that need to be done in moderation -- like TV and video games.
“What Betsy and I tried to do with our group was remind them of childhood memories growing up and try to get them to implement some of it into the young children in their care,” Noble said. “It was more a matter of getting them pumped up, putting them in an exercise mind-set. Moving and eating typically go hand-in-hand as integral partners. When you put calories into our body, you need to use them up. It's the bottom line of weight control.”
UNC-Pembroke physical education chair Tommy Thompson says we need both an attitude adjustment and wake-up call.
“Society as a whole isn't growing up to believe in the importance of movement,” he said. “There's just no value or importance put on human movement, which goes against everything we do as physical educators. The only requirement for these video games it sitting. Then the trend is to eat non-healthy snacks. These manufacturers are smart, too, in going after the taste buds of children. They put fat and sugar in everything and make it quick and easy to get to. Young children are in trouble unless we begin to take a new approach.”
Trouble is usually not far behind those watching violence on TV, according to Dr. Chris Baker, doctor at the Lumberton Children's Clinic.
“A study by the U.S. Attorney General in 1984 showed said that the link between aggressiveness and TV violence is stronger than the link between smoking and cancer,” he said.
The “Color Me Healthy” workshop had 21 teachers from the Public Schools of Robeson County, 19 from child-care facilities, 11 from family day-care centers and three from Head Start programs. All but two were women.
Noble says she will be doing the workshop again in the fall. Anyone wanting to see or check out the packet may do so by visiting Child Care Directions, a resource and referral agency in Lumberton. For information call the agency at 671-8335. Noble may be reached at 671-3276.

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