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With the federal government planning to spend over $1 billion on nutrition education this year, there may be a new course of action necessary to reverse the trend of childhood obesity.

After examining 57 nutrition education programs, an Associated Press review of scientific studies has discovered mostly failure, with only four programs indicating any success in changing how kids eat " or potential to fight the growing childhood obesity epidemic.

The review looked at the effectiveness of nutrition education programs based on children’s responses and eating habits, and found that children were aware of the lessons, but not adopting the healthy eating habits.

After a major federal pilot program offered free produce to school children last year, fifth graders became less willing to eat fruits and vegetables than they had been to start because they did not like the taste.

Researchers in Pennsylvania gave prizes to school children who at fruits and vegetables, which worked while the prizes were offered, but seven months later researchers found that the kids have gone back to eating soda and chips instead.

These studies give an indication as to why obesity rates are nearly 5 times as high for 6-11 year olds and three times as high for teens and children 2-5 since the 1970s. The increase in obesity is also causing dangerous medical consequences " diabetes, high blood pressure, orthopedic problems " which cost an estimated $100 billion/year. Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr., nominated as the next surgeon general, plans to make fighting childhood obesity his number one priority, but he faces difficult challenges.

The forces driving childhood obesity “are really strong and hard to fight with just a program in school,” said Dr. Philip Zeitler, a pediatric endocrinologist and researcher at the Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Experts agree that parents are the most influential forces on their children’s eating habits, both physically and biologically. Most children have decided what tastes good and what doesn’t by the time they are ten years old, based largely on what food their parents provide them. Even before birth, children are influenced by their parents.

“If the mother is eating Cheetos and white bread, the fetus will be born with those taste buds. If the mother is eating carrots and oatmeal the child will be born with those taste buds,” said Dr. Robert Trevino of the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio.

Poverty is another factor that affects children’s eating habits, putting poorer children at higher risk for obesity. Unhealthy food is cheaper and more easily available than healthy food, and low-income neighborhoods have fewer quality supermarkets with fresh produce.

It’s also harder for poor children to exercise, with parks often being unsafe and sports teams costing money.

Advertising is also driving childhood obesity, with children ages 8-12 seeing an average of 21 television ads per day for candy, snacks, cereal, and fast food; and only one ad for healthy food for every 50 for other foods.

Researchers recently analyzed a $7 million USDA program in Los Angeles that reaches about 388,000 students per year with its fact-filled and engaging lessons on nutrition. The results showed no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by participating kids and those who did not take part in the program.

“It’s true it didn’t change what they actually eat. But the program really made a difference in how kids were feeling about fruits and vegetables. They really had a more positive attitude toward fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Mike Prelip, a UCLA researcher who headed up the evaluation.

Other researchers insist, however, that the money should be spent on behavior-oriented programs rather than education-oriented ones.

Obese and overweight children have been found more likely to lose weight through rigorous hospital and clinic-based interventions that involve regular check-ins, family involvement, schedule exercise, and nutrition education. School programs that increase physical activity also have a great chance of impacting children than nutrition education.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced that it will spend $500 million over the course of five years to fund programs that bring supermarkets into poor neighborhoods, studies that measure weight of children who exercise more at school, and meetings of advocates seeking to restrict junk food ...    Continue



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@ 12:47pm ET on July 5, 2007
Seems like the writers of these articles don't realize that children have very little control over what they eat! And that Parents are the single largest influence in a child's life. Parents who don't like fruits and vegetables won't encourage their children to eat them, even in school. If parents don't buy it, don't provide it, then kids aren't going to eat it. Education is at least one generation too late.


@ 3:49pm ET on July 5, 2007
I know many people have different opinions, but I do not think it is governments responsibility to spend our tax money to teach our children how to eat. Sure the schools should offer healthy balanced meals, but adding 1 billion to teach them how to eat? It is only the parents responsibility. Whether it is healthy or unhealthy food, I am the one who prepares and chooses it for my family. Not the government!
And poor children can't exercise? Growing up my family was poor, but my parents were active. So we grew up being very active. It doesn't cost money to walk. Besides we sacrifice any money that we do have for things we really want(even poor people). If we do not spend our money the best we can when we are poor it shows we won't spend it any better when we are rich. And if poor people are bigger then they must be eating more. Where did they get the money to eat more to begin with. I know from experience that getting big isn't necessarily from eating bad things, it's from eating too much of anything. So really bigger people are spending more on food because they require more food than smaller people.


@ 1:48pm ET on July 6, 2007
I've already posted my opinion on these studies, and what I feel governments role should be and been blasted for it... suffice it to say, a parent who sits in front of the tube and eats poorly, will have a kid who sits in front of the tube and eats poorly, regardless of how many billions of my tax dollars go to tell them they shouldn't.

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