Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Lessons from a Box of Pop Tarts

Pop Tarts have always been a part of the Growing Healthy Kids project.  “HOLD IT”, you say.  "Isn’t Growing Healthy Kids all about teaching kids about healthy foods?"  Yes, we are.  Now that I have your attention, let's get straight to the lesson. 

The first lesson I ever received from a box of pop tarts was like a lightning bolt hit me.  It happened the very first time I met with the managers of the local Boys and Girls Club.  I put a box of pop tarts on the table to use as a visual for everything that we teach kids what NOT to eat.  However, before I started my presentation, one manager said, “That’s what we give to the kids every day for their snack.”  I almost fell out of my chair with the manager’s revelation. Turns out the local school district donated them to the Boys and Girls Club!  The thing is, he didn’t think anything was wrong with kids eating pop tarts!  That was more than five years ago.  I have never forgotten the lesson I learned that day:  Educating adults is critical. 

Fast forward to this month.  I designed a new program for children served by Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program.  Again, the visual focal point for the class was a box of pop tarts.  The children and the adult mentors all walked away at the end of the class wondering just how many other foods they have been mindlessly eating that could be causing more harm than good. 

Here are six simple lessons we can all learn from a box of pop tarts:

1.  Count the number of ingredients.  The more ingredients there are, the greater the chance there are hidden sugars and other bad ingredients. 

2.  Read the ingredients out loud.  How many ingredients do you not know how to pronounce?    If there is even one ingredient that you are unsure of how to pronounce, chances are it is a chemical or a highly processed ingredient that is not good for you.

3.  Look for sugar.  How many grams of sugar per serving are on the nutrition facts panel?  How many different names for sugar are listed as ingredients?  The other night I gave the children a list of fifty names for sugar to look for on the box of pop tarts.  They found way more than one or two!  The more sugar kids eat, the greater the chance they are eating empty calories that can cause health issues such as obesity, attention deficit disorder, and diabetes.  

4.  Look for what I call the “evil empire sugar”:  high fructose corn syrup.  This highly processed sugar is one of the worst ingredients we can eat.  Teach your kids to be nutrition detectives and to look carefully at the ingredients so they do not eat any foods containing this “evil empire sugar”. 

5.  Look for food dyes.  See if there are any ingredients that include “blue”, “red”, “yellow”, etc. on the food label.  Consumption of food dyes are  known to cause increased risk of cancer, hyperactivity, aggressive behaviors, thyroid disorders, asthma, insomnia, allergies, and more. 

6.  Identify where the item is physically located in the store.  Take pop tarts, for example.  Why is it that when I go into the cereal aisle in any major grocery store, pop tarts are always at the front of the aisle and there are many rows and shelves of them?  How much is being paid to the grocery store for front row placement?  Did you ever wonder why the steel cut oats don’t get the same respect?  It’s all about the profits.  When you use cheap, highly processed, shelf stable (we’re talking years) ingredients, you can spent more on advertising and you can make more profits.  The pop tarts are also in the middle of the store, where processed foods are found. Start your shopping trip on the walls on the store first, stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy, and seafood.

Our children’s health should not be for sale to the highest bidder.  Yet it is.  You can do something about it.  Look for cereals that are on the top row.  These will be the ones with only a couple of ingredients and less sugar.  They are not, however, at your children’s eye level.  Companies pay stores to get their products placed so that kids will have easy access to them.  So talk with your children before you go shopping the next time.  Make it a game to find a cereal with less than five ingredients, no color dyes and no high fructose corn syrup listed in the ingredients. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich
Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: National Diabetes Education Month

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." 
                                      --Frederick Douglass

Diabetes is the reason why I started the Growing Healthy Kids organization.  After working with thousands of older adults in a wellness program for Medicare, I knew that something powerful needed to be done to protect the health – and lives – of America’s children.  Because obesity is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, children who are overweight and obese deserve are the reason for our education programs. 

Did you know that having dinner together as a family is one of the ways proven to help kids stay at a healthy weight?  So here are a few questions for you…How many nights a week do you eat together as a family?  How often do your kids shop with you?  Do your kids know how to set a table?  What is their favorite recipe to help you prepare? 

October 16th is the deadline for kids age 13 and younger to have their posters postmarked and on their way to us at Growing Healthy Kids.  The theme is “My Favorite Family Foods” and it presents parents with the opportunity to talk with their children about family traditions, cultures, and recipes.  For all the details, look at our September 3, 2014 posting.  Mail your 8-1/2” x 11” poster to: Growing Healthy Kids, 762 US Hwy 1, #106, Vero Beach, Fl 32962.  Winners will be notified by November 16th

We cannot afford to watch our children develop diseases typically diagnosed in older adults.   Have dinner with your kids tonight and have a conversation about your favorite family foods. What is YOUR favorite family food?

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich, MPH

Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

PS - I will be speaking this Saturday on FOOD AND MOOD this Saturday, October 11th at the 2nd Annual Summit for the Parents of Teens and Tweens at 1st Presbyterian Church in Vero Beach, Florida. Only $15/person.  Go to for details!   

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Dear Parents,

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  Obesity in children has more than doubled and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years.  In 2012, more than one in three children and adolescents were overweight or obese.  Obesity has immediate and long-term effects on health AND well-being.  One immediate effect for kids is being the recipient of bullying by their peers at school, especially if they are in middle school. When kids get bullied at school, they isolate themselves at home and at school.  They stop participating in after-school activities.  They complain about stomach aches more often than kids who are not overweight or obese and have higher rates of absenteeism.  Then their grades start dropping.  Then their self-esteem is affected.  

Driving to work every day, I pass a middle school and an elementary school.  I always notice the kids who walk to school because growing up, I walked to school.  I see many kids struggling to walk, walking slower than other kids who are not overweight.  I see kids wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts because they are trying to cover up their size, even though it is 90 degrees outside and other kids are wearing shorts and T-shirts to school.  I notice that the overweight and obese kids are walking slower than the rest of their classmates.  How can you not notice a child who is twice the size of other kids?  

What bothers me about my goal of raising awareness about the solutions to childhood obesity is that kids who are overweight or obese need better role models.  Take today, for example.  I happened to be at the local hospital and I observed that most of the health care workers were overweight or obese.  Outside the hospital, I observed health care workers smoking (instead of walking) on their break.  In the hospital cafeteria, I saw lots of highly processed, prepackaged foods, iceberg lettuce on the salad bar (yuck!) and a large display of sodas right by the cash register.  If most adults are eating foods high in added sugars and think nothing of drinking 3 sodas a day, then is it any wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country?

If childhood obesity is such a big problem, then do we really care enough to do something about it?  If the health care workers at my local hospital are any indication, then I would say no.  If the number of overweight and obese teachers is an indication, then I would say no.  

I could go on and on, but you catch my drift.  If childhood obesity is such a big problem, then WE MUST BE THE SOLUTION.  It is up to us to lead by example.  It is up to us to teach kids how to read food labels and be nutrition detectives.  But if we are drinking three sodas a day and taking our work breaks to smoke instead of take a 10 minute walk, then what are we really teaching our children about good health habits?  

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  Drink water, not soda.   Choose fruit instead of fruit juice.  Read food labels and don't buy food containing trans fats. Take a walk.  Make one change a week.  Be a better role model.  Choose to lead by example.  Dare to care.  Be the solution.

 NEXT WEEK:  Lessons from a box of Pop Tarts

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

PS-If your kids are age 13 and younger, then look for the details about our 4th Annual Poster Contest on the September 3rd issue of Wellness Wednesdays.   We are SO EXCITED about tapping the voice of America's children!