When did we as a society become so disconnected from the food we eat that we no longer know how it affects our body and our health? A few weeks ago, we watched Gov. Christie on The Jay Leno Show parody his obesity struggle by eating a cherry donut, even though he knows it’s a serious health issue. This disconnect received more attention than a sobering statistic released by the American Heart Association at the current obesity growth rate, total health care costs directly attributable to overweight and obesity could reach $861 to $957 billion by 2030, accounting for 16% to 18% of U.S. health expenditures.


The disconnect between real food and health is even more staggering when we talk about our children’s health; Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution showed us unhealthy American school lunches and his struggle to introduce healthier foods to school-aged children. How shocking, moreso than the school lunches, was when he would hold up produce such as tomatoes or potatoes, and elementary-aged children, again and again, could not identify even the most common of foods. And one wonders why the obesity rate is soaring for our young people?


The childhood obesity rate has more than doubled since 1980, and the number of children considered obese has shot past 12 million. Obesity is now considered a national epidemic, spurring a cocktail of kindred ailments: coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, liver disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and gynecological problems. And the disconnect continues between what we consume and health. Take soda for example. The health hazards of drinking this sweetened carbonated beverage is no secret and yet American children and adolescents continue to imbibe this product as the largest source of sugar in their diet. A Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Study supports this fact, yet sadly we continue as a nation to rank first among countries in soft drink consumption.  Approximately one half of the population consumes sugary drinks any given day. The per capital consumption of those sugary bubbles is in excess of 150 quarts per year per person, or three quarts per week. The relationship between soft drink consumption and body weight is so strong that researchers calculate that for each additional soda consumed, the risk of obesity increases 1.6 times.


It is time for us, and for our children to learn that they are what they eat. The early years are crucial for children’s health because young people have tremendous internal demands on their bodies for development. They are building a system and laying a foundation of health for a lifetime.  Vitamin and mineral-rich diets are crucial to children’s healthy development and ensure that biochemical processes trigger excellent energy production. Appropriately sized nutrient dense meals (proteins, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats) are needed to power the complex biochemical processes required to optimize metabolism, which minimizes the risk of many health issues. This is the perfect time to nurture, guide, and model healthy eating to ensure optimal health for our children’s futures; we are at a juncture where we need to empower children to learn what healthy foods are and are not, and to help them become their own best advocates when asking for and receiving meals.


On March 11 the first annual RI Statewide Read will take place as an act of solidarity on behalf of children’s health.  (March 12th in Warwick and Narragansett) Over 75,000 students at more than 200 schools, libraries, youth programs, and health centers throughout the state will participate in the Statewide Read event of Is Your Hair Made of Donuts?, a book I wrote and published to speak directly to young children and engage them with a fun story line they can relate to – but with a serious underlying message.  If my book has one point to make it is that “you are what you eat.” This event recognizes March as National Nutrition Month – the 40th anniversary of nutrition awareness.


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