It is never too early to start learning about healthful food choices, according to Susan Bates, program coordinator at Amsterdam Memorial Hospital’s Diabetes Center.
“They need to learn there are other options out there and they are never too young to learn that,” she said.
Bates participated in the hospital’s first program to combat childhood obesity, called “N-Lighten Up,” where she taught five girls from the Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy about healthful food and lifestyle choices over winter break from school.
The girls, ages 11-13, learned about the correct caloric intake, how to read food labels and ways to exercise. To reinforce their lessons, the group made a trip to Hannaford Supermarket to buy food, made a healthful lunch with the help of staff from Cornell Cooperative Extension and even went to eat at Ruby Tuesday’s.
“This isn’t about dieting. It’s about a lifestyle change,” Rana Huber, the hospital’s director of marketing and public relations, said Friday.
All five girls who participated in the program agreed that they were not too young to learn about healthy food choices and most said schools should be teaching about healthful lifestyles to elementary school children.
“They should be learning about this in kindergarten. You have got to know how to take care of yourself,” Ginette Santoro, 13, said.
Santoro said she was surprised at what she ate each day after keeping a journal of her food intake and she learned ways to eat right and that she could eat dessert, but only in moderation.
Tabatha Dougherty, 12, a seventh-grader, agreed with Santoro that children should learn about food choices early, while they are developing their habits.
“Teach them to be healthy now before they get too old and it’s too late,” she said.
Huber said the N-Lighten Up program started after a member of the community approached hospital staff, asking them to provide some sort of educational program to combat childhood obesity. The hospital raised $850 from the Amsterdam Rotary Club and the Childhood Aid Society, Huber said. Each of the participants was given a packet containing a food scale, pedometer, journal, measuring tape and a book containing facts about various foods.
Huber wants the program to continue next year and grow to include more school districts throughout Montgomery County.
All five girls said they weren’t getting enough information about healthful food choices and lifestyle changes in school. Bates said that is probably because concrete evidence about childhood obesity is just coming out.
Bates said the generation being taught is going to be the first generation that isn’t expected to live longer than their parents, and one out of every three will be diabetic. Bates said the program empowered the girls to make their own good decisions.
“Everyone agrees that America is getting bigger, but changes comes from the bottom up. Politicians only enact change when someone rattles their chains and who better to rattle the chains than the next generation,” Bates said.
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