Child Obesity: If You Want to Help Future Generations, Now Is the Time to Act!

School food guidelines need serious revisions. Jamie's ultimate goal is to start a new cooking initiative and make the public aware of what's being served at local schools.
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The fight against childhood obesity is on everyone's plate right now, as the health of America's youth takes center stage in mainstream media and politics. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to end childhood obesity in this generation. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is in primetime television and getting the attention of millions. Our nation's children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. The time to take action is now. Since children spend many of their waking hours at school, eating up to two meals a day there, we need to place a special focus on school food and nutrition.

Jamie Oliver, a passionate chef and TV personality, recently launched his latest project, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution which is trying to change the way people eat. The first stop is an elementary school cafeteria in Huntington, West Virginia. Jamie surveyed the school's menu and immediately noticed that rather than serving well-rounded meals, the cafeteria was dishing out packaged, processed food products. The sad news is that this is common practice at many schools around the country. Kids love the sugar-laden flavored milk and greasy French fries, which are even considered a vegetable by some schools, but they're unaware of the impact on their health. School food guidelines need serious revisions. Jamie's ultimate goal is to start a new cooking initiative and make the public aware of what's being served at local schools.

When Jamie arrived in Huntington, he knew he had to get a few people on his side or his efforts to help the community would be unsuccessful. He worked closely with the school principal, cafeteria workers and the director of school food for the district. However, the bigger challenge was met off school grounds. When kids were asked, "What did you have for dinner last night?" he noticed that many were eating the same kinds of foods at home as they were served at school -- chicken nuggets and pizza topped the list. Jamie recognized the need to educate parents for healthy changes to begin at home.

Big changes like creating nutritious school food and adjusting the eating habits of children takes an organized effort from an entire community. Yet resistance comes at all levels, from picky kid eaters to legislative red tape. How do we overcome these challenges to create a lasting change that will carry through generations?

Integrative Nutrition graduate Jennifer Taylor has started her own revolution. She recently inspired our current class of 2010 with her outreach efforts for the Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in East Hampton, NY. Their goal is to make East Hampton the healthiest town in America.

Jennifer recently shared a story with me about how the local middle school children complained to their cafeteria and refused to buy lunch until the school offered healthier food choices. The children were empowered to do this after receiving nutrition education from the school's wellness program. The mission of Wellness Foundation is to create a program that could serve as a role model of wellness for other communities in the country to follow.

The Wellness Foundation also created Food for Life: Real Food for a Change, a 10 week interactive, inter-generational program where students and parents learn about nutrition and healthy choices together. Jennifer encourages parents to actively participate and bring home what they learned. Many are even leaving work to attend the weekly sessions with their children. Grandparents are getting involved too. Amazingly, three generations are learning about nutrition together!

Jamie and Jennifer know the importance of teaching where food comes from, what it looks like and how good nutrition creates healthy bodies. Getting kids involved at an early age is key in promoting healthy food choices. Try taking your child to the grocery store and allowing them to pick out a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the produce section. They are much more likely to eat food they had a hand in picking out and preparing.

At the legislative level, First Lady Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign brings national attention to the childhood obesity cause. She recently spoke at a governor's meeting to inspire the state legislatures to get on board. The guidelines that allow sugary drinks and fried foods in schools need to change--and fast. The First Lady's mission to end childhood obesity in one generation will depend on revising how the government views nutrition.

As Jennifer Taylor advocates, "Once children learn that chickens don't grow as nuggets, they can make healthier and more informed choices. American children are fed in school, but they are not being nourished. By getting involved and creating a grass roots movement in your own community, we can make a change at the government level where it is most needed. When the guidelines for healthy food in schools change, the food will change." Children are the future and if current trends continue, they will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan then their parents.

Try this dessert with your kids for a healthier alternative.

Baked Bananas

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

4 firm bananas
1 teaspoon olive oil
1-inch piece grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.Peel and cut bananas in half, lengthwise.
3.Oil a baking pan and arrange bananas.
4.Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins.
5.Cover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

•Wonderful with chocolate sauce.

Joshua Rosenthal is the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the largest nutrition school in the world.

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