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Fruits And Veggies Can Be Fun

Program at Cook Elementary aims to show kids why healthy foods are not only good for them, but good, too.

It's the classic mealtime conundrum: the sweet treats like peach cobbler and salty stuff like buttered biscuits are yummy to pint-sized tummies. The green stuff like spinach and cucumbers? Well, not so much.

Our national tastes for all things sugary and salty has led to an obesity problem not just in adults, but now our kids, too. In fact, the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry estimates 16 to 33 percent of American adolescents are obese.

All told, obesity in America costs society about $100 billion a year, AACAP says.

Against that backdrop of sobering statistics, Strong4Life, an initiative of , aims to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and see that doing so can be fun, too.

On Monday, a team of folks from Children's Healthcare, Strong4Life and volunteers, went to Cook Elementary School in Atlanta's Capitol Gateway neighborhood to make the push with the kids about healthy eating.

It comes as several initiatives centered around healthy eating are taking root in Atlanta Public Schools.

Burgess-Peterson Academy in East Atlanta, for example, has a vegetable garden maintained by its students that garnered a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama last year.

Another effort, Atlanta Farm to School, is joint effort of the Atlanta Falcons' Youth Foundation and Georgia Organics Farm to School. That program aims to get kids in APS healthier by offering a greater number of fresh, local food choices, create activities such as hands-on gardening and food activities and by supporting the local food economy.

The Cook Elementary event was part of the Strong4Life School Challenge, a weeklong event, said Ronnel Blackmon, one of the program trainers.

The core message is to get kids to develop four healthy habits including eating right, drinking more water, limiting time in front of television and computer screens and staying active, he said.

It's critical to get kids on a healthy eating track, Children's Healthcare said.

Children’s Health4Life Clinic had 350 patient visits in 2010 – some as young as 3 years old, officials said. Health4Life patient have an array of clinical issues, including:

  • Type II diabetes
  • hyperinsulinemia
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • hypercholesterolemia
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • hypertension
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • prediabetes.

For example, Children’s physicians are currently treating 150 children with fatty liver disease and/or cirrhosis, conditions that are rarely seen among children who are not overweight.

The Strong4Life School Challenge has made its way through 24 schools in Columbus and now Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School System. They've brought the healthy-foods-can-be-fun mantra to some 11,000 kids.

With fruits and veggies on hand — all donated from Whole Foods — ranging from Kiwi fruit and cucumbers to red peppers and pineapple, they aimed to show Cook's kids the different foods could be fun.

Each child was given a food passport, and received a stamp in it for every food they tried. The children also received healthy recipe cards that featured meals they and their parents could make at home.

The efforts are all designed to get them on healthy eating habits now, because they're more likely to keep those habits, said Holly Cheek, a nutritionist at Children's Healthcare.

Meals at schools began because many children weren't getting enough to eat. Now it's less a question of getting enough to eat and more a case of eating the right kinds of foods, Cheek told East Atlanta Patch.

"If you look at a lot of kids, even if they look like they are getting enough to eat, it's not just about getting enough to eat, it's about eating the right foods."

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