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Healthy Kids : Kids Consume Too Many Empty Calories

Emily Burton, Richmond Register, Ky.

Children in the United States are full. Full of empty calories that is, according to a study from the National Cancer Institute.

The Bethesda, Md., based group's review of information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey found that approximately 40 percent of calories consumed by children ages 2 to 8 were empty.

These types of calories can promote childhood obesity and lead to health problems.

"At an individual level, childhood obesity is the result of an imbalance between the calories a child consumes as food and beverages and the calories a child uses to support normal growth and development, metabolism, and physical activity," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

Nearly 40 percent of Kentucky's children are obese, according to the CDC. This means their bodies are more than 30 percent fat. The national average for childhood obesity is 32 percent. Body fat is measured on a Body Mass Index scale, and the CDC provides a child and teen BMI calculator on its website. The BMI calculators for adults, should not be used to calculate body fat for children, which can vary with age and gender.

The CDC also said that children's diet can contribute to childhood obesity. Consuming empty calories foods also plays a factor in whether children become obese.

According to the study, children are getting the majority of their empty calories from just six foods: soda, sugary fruit drinks, desserts like cake, cookies and doughnuts, pizza and whole milk.

So, what are empty calories? This means they're foods high in calories, but low in vitamins, minerals and nutrients. They're often high in carbohydrates and fats and tend to come from processed or refined foods. They are energy-dense, but nutrient poor.

And although the CDC said the first step to removing empty-calorie-foods begins at home, Madison County Schools is taking steps to prevent students from consuming too many empty calories while at school.

In addition, the school system also is taking steps to promote physical activity.

"I feel like were doing more than people are aware were doing," said Rebecca Carr, district nurse coordinator.

This includes eliminating soda from elementary schools and introducing fitness programs, such as Into Fitness4Life, which encourages children to see physical fitness as fun and healthy.

Two schools, Caudill Middle and Shannonn Johnson Elementary, conduct physical education classes daily.

In addition, the school system recently purchased Fitnessgram software.

This software, in use across the district, allows schools to test children's fitness levels from elementary through high school, Carr said. The schools can retrieve data from this software that lets them know what they need to change, and if the programs in place are helping children stay fit.

In addition to keeping kids active, the school system also is ensuring that children are fed healthy foods while at school, said Emily Agee, child nutrition director.

A point of pride for helping children stay healthy is the Healthy Celebrations program.

This program encourages students' parents to provide healthy snacks at parties, Agee said. Cupcakes and other goodies still are allowed, it's just that more healthful snacks are preferred, she said.

School lunches often have been mocked as bland, but that's not so in Madison County Schools, Agee said.

"People should come to school and see what's being served," she said.

Yes, there might be pizza served to children, but it's got a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese on top. Children are being served french fries, but they're baked and not fried, she said.

In fact, she said, the district has removed almost all of its deep fryers and is attempting to serve more whole grains to students.

Even though money is tight, schools are finding ways to serve children healthy foods, she said.

The public attention focused on childhood obesity has encouraged the food industry to revamp their products and provide healthier options at low costs, Agee said.

Instruction on what foods are healthy also is part of the curriculum, both women said.

"We want the people of Madison County to know that we do care about the kids. It takes everybody, the parents, the community," Agee said.

Emily Burton may be reached at eburton@richmondregister.com or at 624-6694.

Copyright 2010 The Richmond Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Copyright © 2010, Richmond Register, Ky.

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