Children becoming nutrition minded more and more

March 10, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Getting school-age children to eat a health-promoting diet can be a challenge. Too many favorite foods -- pizza, ice cream, fast-food burgers, sodas -- are high in fat and shy on essential nutrients. And kid-oriented information on healthful eating may be hard to come by.

For the past 17 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service has been trying to teach nutrition fundamentals to children, parents, educators and food-service personnel. For four days this week, scores of health, education and nutrition professionals have gathered in Baltimore to talk about meeting the challenge of nutrition education and training in the '90s, at the USDA-sponsored conference on "Promoting Healthy Eating Habits for Our Children."

The news is not all bad from the front lines. On Monday, Claire Regan, a dietitian with the International Food Information Council, a non-profit food-information agency in Washington, presented the results of two studies that showed, among other things, that a surprising 73 percent of kids 6 to 9 knew "nutrition" meant foods that are good for you. And 93 percent knew eating fruits and vegetables promotes good health.

"I think it is very good news," Ms. Regan said. "The challenge is to get kids to actually choose nutritious foods." They also need to know how to balance a diet over time, she said: An occasional pizza is OK if kids know that they can balance a pizza with low-fat choices later.

The survey of children 6 to 9 years old also showed that -- despite conventional wisdom that family meals went out with Beaver Cleaver -- 91 percent of them eat dinner with their families at least three to four times a week, and 69 percent eat a family dinner every night.

Family meals are excellent opportunities for teaching good nutrition -- "but you have to teach parents how to deliver good nutrition information," Ms. Regan said.

Also on Monday, conference participants heard of successful nutrition initiatives from New York (teacher training programs), Missouri (community coalitions), and West Virginia (formulating public policy). Yesterday the discussion turned to tactics for making nutrition policies work in school settings and forming partnerships to promote nutrition education. Priorities for the future are on the closing agenda today.

One thing Ms. Regan would like to see is more attention on exercise. Child obesity can be linked to too much TV. "The emphasis should be on physical activity and getting kids to apply what they know."

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