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Preventing childhood obesity

Nine million children in the United States are seriously overweight. If they don't change their habits, these kids will be headed toward heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. And obesity isn't just a physical problem. In a recent study pediatricians reported that severely obese adolescents felt slightly more social isolation than teenage cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Snacking is a big culprit in children's obesity, especially since so many children come home to an empty house because both parents work. It's easy for these kids to grab a bag of chips or a handful of cookies if they've got the munchies. While these high-sugar, high-fat snacks aren't healthy, children can benefit from two or three well-planned snacks each day. Here are some tips to healthful snacking:

Plan ahead. Place a fruit basket on the table, or cut up fresh fruits and vegetables and place them strategically at the front of the fridge. Get rid of the cookies, chips, and soda and replace them with seltzer, nuts, dried fruit, and whole-grain crackers.

Check the labels. The nutrition labels on most snack foods indicate that a single package often contains two or three adult servings. First of all, many people forget about the serving size and assume (naturally) that one package contains one serving. But, for instance, a 20-ounce bottle of Coca Cola is actually 2.5 servings. Second, a child's portion size is less than that for an adult. His or her ideal portion size will depend on age and activity level but, as a general rule, snacks should include a single serving from one or two food groups.

Remember food quality. Processed foods, though convenient, are often loaded with fat, salt, and sugar, and low on nutrients and fiber. But the ideal snacks are minimally processed, rich in vitamins and minerals, and light on added ingredients. Here are some suggestions:

  • Fruit doesn't have to be boring. Try mixing up berries, oranges, mangoes, grapes, and pomegranates. Or add fresh fruit to plain or vanilla yogurt.
  • Make a smoothie by blending fresh fruit with juice, yogurt, or low-fat milk.
  • Use orange juice to make Popsicles.
  • Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on an apple or banana.
  • Cut up fresh veggies (tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, or others) and serve with a little low-fat dip or dressing.
  • Make a mini-pizza on whole-wheat bread or an English muffin by adding tomato sauce and a little shredded cheese.
  • Try whole-wheat graham crackers instead of cookies.
  • Offer breadsticks with hummus or unbuttered popcorn instead of chips.

As part of a campaign to cut down on the soft drinks and candy bars sold in schools, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has put out a list of some of the healthiest and worst snacks for children.

10 of the Worst Foods for Children

  1. Soda pop
  2. Whole milk
  3. Hamburgers
  4. American cheese
  5. Hot dogs
  6. French fries and tater tots
  7. Ice cream
  8. Pizza loaded with cheese and meat
  9. Bologna
  10. Chocolate bars

10 of the Best Foods for Children

  1. Fresh fruits and vegetables (especially carrot sticks, cantaloupe, oranges, watermelon, strawberries)
  2. Chicken breast and drumstick without skin or breading
  3. Cheerios, Wheaties, or other whole-grain, low-sugar cereals
  4. Skim or 1% milk
  5. Extra-lean ground beef or vegetarian burgers (Gardenburgers or Green Giant Harvest Burgers)
  6. Low-fat hot dogs (Yves Veggie Cuisine Fat-Free weiners or Lightlife Fat-Free Smart Dogs)
  7. Non-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt
  8. Fat-free corn chips or potato chips
  9. Seasoned air-popped popcorn
  10. Whole-wheat crackers or Small World Animal Crackers

November 2003 Update

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