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Making Nutrition Fun Helps Kids Change

Making Nutrition Fun Helps Kids Change

The comic Steven Wright once said his mom made only two dishes for dinner -- take it or leave it. That’s the same menu choices offered by researchers in San Diego when they told fourth graders, “Hey, wanna grow a carrot?” (Take it). Or “Don’t ever eat bad-for-you food.” (Leave it.) Guess what happened?

In a school-based nutrition program called Shaping Healthy Choices, fourth graders become healthier when offered fun nutritional options such as gardening and choosing lunch from a cafeteria salad bar, had nutrition messages integrated into the curriculum and got their parents involved with nutrition newsletters. At the start of the school year 56 percent of students were overweight -- by the end it was just 38 percent. The students’ average Body Mass Index fell nine points. WHOA!!! That’s a super change!

Schoolmates not in the program didn’t lose weight or eat better, despite being told to avoid sweetened drinks and other unhealthy foods. Seems teaching good nutrition habits and growing your own vegetables inspire; negative messages misfire.

A free Shaping Healthy Choices program toolkit will be available online later this year.  (In the meantime, other effective programs include Healthcorps.org for high-schoolers and the Cleveland Clinic’s Food is Knowledge Program for K-2.)

To fund childhood obesity program components that take some cash, schools can run auctions, car washes, or sell a recipe book the kids put together. Old-school thinking was that vendors and marketers of fast food, candy, and soda could put their products in schools to help raise cash. That’s a case in which it’s better to leave it than take it.

Medically reviewed in July 2019.

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