5-2-1-0 For Healthy Kids -- And You!


One of my favorite areas as a registered dietitian is helping kids and their parents learn how to make healthy changes to their diet in a way that is fun for the kids and realistic for everyone. Lately I have been using the popular 5-2-1-0 message. Have you heard of it? There are many adaptations and take-offs of the concept but I love the simplicity and important messages that are highlighted. The one I have been using is "5210 Let's Go!" at The Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Maine. "Let's Go!" is a nationally recognized program designed to increase healthy eating and active living in children and is centered around the 5-2-1-0 message:

5 -- or more fruits and veggies each day
2 -- hours or less of recreational screen time
1 -- hour or more of physical activity daily
0 -- sugary drinks (more water and low-fat milk)

As we are bombarded by diet information and get more confused by nutrition headlines daily, I tend to grab onto the simple, proven basics. Basic messages that people understand can be the most impactful when it comes to long term change. The 5-2-1-0 message is simple enough for kids, yet it has the scientific rationale to back it u, which all registered dietitians love.

Depending on who you talk to, you will hear or read varying answers to the question of why obesity (both childhood and adult) is on the rise. Of course, there is no one reason for the obesity epidemic, but many contributing factors. The 5-2-1-0 message hits four of the factors that indeed play a significant role in both childhood and adult obesity. I can't help but think how powerful it would be if even half of families with kids applied the 5-2-1-0 principles in their household. Kids and their adults would benefit greatly for years to come.

The basic, yet powerful 5-2-1-0 has scientific rationale:

More fruits and veggies.
This message focuses its recommendations for kids on getting at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day. A diet rich in fruits and veggies is associated with lower rates of chronic disease and may help prevent weight gain -- especially when eaten in replacement of other common kid snacks. To aim for more than five servings is great, but from what I see in my practice, most adults are not getting the minimum five servings daily. You could guess kids are not too different as they are led in their food choices by their adult family members. Encouraging five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, has been and continues to be a very basic nutrition message -- if acted upon could be instrumental in the future well-being of our children.

Less screen time.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices¹. This is just astounding to me. The increase in screen time brings much more sitting still and as a result an increased prevalence of overweight and obesity (not to mention lower reading scores and attention problems). Two hours as a maximum per day of screen time is a great goal and whether it is doable or not, it is relevant for kids and something families should be mindful of.

More Moving.
Regular physical activity is essential for weight maintenance and prevention of chronic diseases. The benefits of exercise don't stop there. Regular exercise also improves mood, boosts energy, and helps you sleep better². Any parent of an adolescent or teenager would agree that an improvement in mood, more energy and better sleep would have a positive effect on the child and those around them. School-aged kids in gym and sports usually are quite active, however this does decline as kids age, making one hour of physical activity each day a challenge for many. I encourage kids to just be kids and play more, but for many of those older kids the activity needs to intentional when aiming to reach that 60 minutes per day.

Less sugary drinks -- in fact zero.
Sugary drinks -- like pop, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks -- are popular options among both youth and adults. It should be no surprise that an increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with cavities and excessive weight gain³. There is a large body of research examining this association. Sugary drinks are not only high in sugar and calories, but have few nutrients, if any. Excessive sugar intake when these drinks are frequent is one thing, but what the drinks are replacing is another. Reducing sugar-sweetened beverages is a recommended strategy to promote optimal health and is actually a component of the healthy dietary habits described in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The "5210 Let's Go!" campaign is spot on and relevant to kids and families. I love the messages and will continue to encourage kids and families to incorporate any or all of them into their daily actions towards a healthful life ahead. I would encourage you to do the same.

³http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/98/1/180.long - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
http://www.letsgo.org/ The program has a great website and encourages the use and/or adaption of their materials, logos and toolkits.