|(ARA) – Obesity is an epidemic in the United States, especially among young people. Today, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in seven children is obese. In addition, there are three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980. Another startling fact reported recently in the Washington Post is that the health care costs for overweight and obese individuals are rivaling the financial toll of smoking.
Researchers blame several factors for the trend, the most noteworthy of which is diet. “Kids eat a lot of foods that aren’t good for them because that’s what’s readily available when they’re hungry, especially at school,” says Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, the nation’s leading organic yogurt manufacturer, headquartered in New Hampshire. “If they are given the choice, and the foods taste good, we believe they will choose healthy foods.”
Dorothy Hebert, executive director of Kids First, a group dedicated to safeguarding the nutritional health of Rhode Island’s kids, agrees. “It’s amazing to me that kindergarteners can identify burgers, fries, chips and cookies, but the majority of them don’t know what a grapefruit is,” says Hebert. “When we go into the schools and hand out cut up fruits and vegetables, though, they just gobble them up. That tells me they like healthy foods, they just aren’t exposed to them.”
Kids First is working with Stonyfield Farm’s Menu for Change initiative to get healthy foods into Rhode Island’s schools. The multi-phased program provides innovative solutions to parents and school groups who are interested in improving their children’s nutrition in school. One aspect of the program is a healthy vending machine. Stonyfield reached out to other healthy food companies, and together they have created a healthy vending machine for schools, which includes carrots and dip, yogurt, organic milk and cheese, pretzels, and energy bars, instead of the traditional chips, candy and soda.
Just this past summer, the largest school board in the country voted in favor of doing away with junk food on its campuses. . The vending machines in New York schools now contain energy bars, water, 100 percent fruit juices and low-fat, low salt chips, instead of candy and soda.
Getting healthy foods in vending machines is just part of the Menu for Change initiative. “We have a program for every level of involvement,” says Hirshberg. “We are currently supporting legislative efforts to improve school nutrition, and we have a Parent Action Kit on our website that includes sample letters to legislators and sample bills.” In addition, the web-based Parent Action Kit includes 10 Steps to getting healthier food into schools.”Hirshberg says parents can do as much or as little as they want to initiate change. “The best place to start is on the personal level where they can either inquire about possible changes in their child’s school food program or take part in our Organic Lunchbox Challenge and switch what they put in their child's school lunchbox.”
To pack a healthy lunch for your kids containing at least one organic item, you can include a Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, an organic apple or any number of other delicious and healthy organic foods. “At Stonyfield Farm we believe that now is the time to make simple, concrete changes that will go far to reverse the growing numbers of preventable health problems amongst our youth,” says Hirshberg.
For more information on how to get involved in Stonyfield’s Menu for Change initiative, log onto their Web site at www.stonyfield.com and on the left hand side, click on the link that says Menu for Change.
Courtesy of ARA Content
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