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New School Year Renews Children's Eating Concerns
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Summer activities may be concluding, but schoolagers still need to include physical activities in their daily routine to avoid being overweight. Healthy diets also benefit learning capabilities.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control indicates a continuing increase in overweight children and adolescents in the United States. Reports estimate 14 percent of the children and 12 percent of the adolescents are overweight. Diet and physical activity are the two primary behavioral factors associated with extra weight.
"Just like with adults, children and adolescents' intake of calories and expenditures of energy work together to achieve healthy weights," said Dr. Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "All of us are spending more time in front of computers, televisions or video games and less time in physical activities than people used to spend. There is also less physical education in school curricula."
Mixon said skipping meals can be especially hard on students who need to be mentally alert for learning their lessons. Breakfasts need to be a priority, and the more well rounded the meal, the better and longer benefit for the student.
"Breakfasts that are high in sugar can have negative effects on performance as well as provide unnecessary calories. The same can be said for school snacks," Mixon said. "Teachers usually prefer that children have more nutritious snacks because of the positive effects they can have on performance."
Mixon said healthier breakfasts and snacks can help control weight gain. Select snacks such as cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers, grapes or bananas. Teachers often discourage children from bringing "junk foods" like candy and potato chips.
"Parents need to model good eating habits and physical activity. Look for activities that can be family fun and will get everyone off the sofa," Mixon said.
Linda Patterson, Extension health education specialist, said exercise can be enjoyed by the whole family, but may be a challenge to find the program that satisfies everyone.
"Parents should not push their children beyond their capability. The `no pain, no gain' approach is not good for children or adults," Patterson said. "It is more important for children to be active than to be athletic or competitive. Young children need four to six hours of physical play each day for full development of their potential. It will also help stimulate learning."