Help kids live healthier

Moderated by Rick Badie

Hey Georgia parents: Think you can outrun your 10-year-old? You just might be able to, given the fitness level of young people. Our nation’s kids are weak and unfit, and their cardiovascular fitness is on the decline. Call it exercise or playtime, but we need more of both, writes a local pediatrician who specializes in child wellness. Meanwhile, an Atlanta chef and food services executive encourages smarter and healthier living. Yes, that would require smaller food portions.

Make smart decisions, live healthy

By Chris Weiser

I love everything about it, from how the smell of sizzling bacon brings me right back to my childhood, to the fact it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a piece of pumpkin pie. I love food so much, I became a chef. I’m also a long-time member and former chair of the advisory board for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Food has been a conduit to new friends, jobs, experiences and memories.

The rising epidemic of obesity has inspired me to help others understand what they are eating, and how that contributes to their quality of life. It’s no secret we Southerners struggle with our diets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64.8 percent of adults in Georgia are considered overweight.

As a trained chef and executive for Sodexo, I see how hard it is for people to make smart decisions. I’ve learned the best thing we can do as an industry to improve people’s quality of life is to help them. The Sodexo Mindful Healthy Dining Program is based on the premise that you don’t have to sacrifice great-tasting food to be healthy. We can deliver food that feeds the soul and the body.

Mindful Eating is in workplaces across metro Atlanta, including corporations, academic institutions, universities and soon k-12 schools and cultural destinations.

One of our program participants at Georgia Tech recently lost 120 pounds in part to the Mindful program. He learned it’s the small choices that have the greatest impact and longevity for his journey towards a healthier lifestyle. He keeps a blog on the Mindful website, “Grant’s Small Steps,” where he shares tips:

• Use tracking tools. The Mindful program and its website (www.mindful.sodexo.com) include tools and resources to help people focus on improving overall health including MyFitnessPal, an app to help track nutrition information for prepackaged products. Using a Fitbit or equivalent tracking tool helps you monitor your daily level of activity and allows you to set small goals.

• Cook more. It’s easier to maintain a healthy diet by controlling exactly what’s in food. The Mindful program has a community anyone can join for access to free healthy recipes and articles on well-being, and to ask the advice of a registered dietitian.

• Portion control. One of the easiest choices we can make is portion control. Say no to a second helping or extra dessert; pack your entrée to-go when you’re already full from an appetizer.

• Walk more. There are a variety of ways we can add to our daily level of physical activity. Grant, for example, chose to get off the campus transit bus a few stops early every day before class so he could incorporate more walking into his day. Mindful suggests mapping out a 1-mile route with mapmywalk.com. Ask your co-workers, neighbors or friends to join you.

Well-being is about a balanced mindset. As a community, we should encourage each other to achieve the best quality of life. So I challenge Georgians to practice a “mindful” approach to life. It’s simple: Make smarter decisions for smarter living.

Chris Weiser is vice president of culinary and retail systems for Sodexo.

Playtime should be a priority for all children

By Stephanie Walsh

If your kids were failing subjects like math, science or English, you’d be concerned and ready to spring into action to help them bring their grades up. After all, mastering those subjects is critical to their academic future. That same sense of responsibility should hold true for fitness scores, since they are a strong indicator of something even more crucial — your child’s present and future health.

According to last year’s Fitnessgram, just 16 percent of Georgia’s kids who were administered the test were able to pass all five basic fitness tests; 20 percent were unable to pass any tests. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, these children couldn’t walk a mile, do push-ups or touch their toes. If you do the math, odds are, one or more of these kids belongs to you.

Where’s our parental outcry?

Kids themselves aren’t to blame for this failure. It’s no surprise they reject exercise, because we’ve unintentionally bred a generation that doesn’t really experience or enjoy active play. To them, the idea of being outdoors and moving pales in comparison to the prospect of playing video games and watching television.

How can we bring our kids back to the activities that will keep them healthy, the same ones we loved growing up?

The good news is that our kids aren’t destined to have unhealthy futures. Kids love to play, so increasing their playtime offers us, as parents, a low-hanging-fruit solution. The remarkable benefit — for parents, teachers and kids alike — is almost immediate.

An afternoon of playing outside will improve your child’s behavior this evening and help him sleep tonight. With regular playtime, he’ll sit still and learn better at school, manage stress and feel better about himself, get sick less, and be happier and less moody. And yes, he’s more likely to live a longer, healthier, happier life.

While we’re at it, let’s stop using the word “exercise.” What child wants to “go out and exercise?” From now on, let’s use the word “play,” because with a little encouragement, active playing is something our children will come to love. Just like we did.

Georgia parents are loving, strong and proud. We know how to stand up, take charge and make things happen. That’s why I’m absolutely convinced we have the strength to make playtime a higher priority. Parents, the choice is ours.

Stephanie Walsh is medical director of child wellness for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.


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