September is Childhood Obesity Prevention Month, and there are several ways that Richmond County families can work together to ensure a happy and healthy lifestyle.
According to Sarah Mammarella, Family and Consumer Sciences agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 42 percent of children younger than 18 in Richmond County are overweight, and 24 percent are obese. In the nation, the obesity rate has nearly tripled in the past 30 years.
“We need to start small changes amongst these high risk youth in order to combat the obesity problem and help reduce their risks of chronic diseases in the future,” Mammarella said. “Some easy changes that can be made in families include reducing or eliminating sugary drinks (such as sodas and sweet tea) from our children’s diets, reading nutrition labels and paying attention to appropriate serving/portion sizes, and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.”
Melodie McSwain of Rockingham said her family has taken several small steps toward a healthier lifestyle through her daughter’s participation in Food S.T.U.F.F., a five-week class created by FirstHealth of the Carolinas, given in partnership between the Cooperative Extension and FirstHealth.
McSwain said her daughter, 8-year-old Zoie, took the class over the summer, and was inspired to start eating foods with a higher nutritious value.
The class, directed toward young children, focused on the importance of making healthy food choices such as fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins and fats and dairy and drinks, Mammarella said. Each class had a lesson followed by a hands-on healthy recipe that was given to kids.
“Zoie would go for an hour each week and come home with a Ziplock bag with some new food she made, like trail mix or a vegetable wrap with low fat dressing that was homemade,” McSwain said.
After her daughter’s first class, McSwain said Zoie wanted to help the entire family stay healthy.
“Zoie likes to cook anyway, so she enjoyed it,” McSwain said. “She came home telling me about the healthy foods we needed to be eating and I realized how much junk we had in the house. She wanted to go grocery shopping with food charts they gave her, so we posted the chart on the fridge and started looking at what we weren’t getting each day that we should be. We cleaned our cabinets and got rid of sodas, cookies, chips, and went to the grocery store and revamped our whole idea.”
But a healthier lifestyle didn’t mean a dramatic change for the family, McSwain said.
“I still cook with the same things, but do it differently,” McSwain said. “I use wheat flour, wheat pasta and things like that … It all started with that little class. Zoie was so excited, so we decided to make some little changes. Nothing drastic, but healthier options. Nobody has seemed to miss out on all that junk.
“My oldest son has lost a few pounds just by cutting out the junk food. My husband brought a soda home from the convenience store one day because it was on sale, and my son said ‘what’s that doing in here? You know we’re supposed to get rid of that,’” she said.
McSwain said she would encourage other families to get involved with healthier eating habits like hers did.
“Instead of chips, now (my kids) reach for plums or nectarines or peaches or something,” she said. “I leave them out … so they don’t forget.”
To learn more about National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month or for tips on how to help your kids lead a healthy lifestyle, visit http://www.fitness.gov.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.