For local parents, educators childhood obesity is not easy hurdle

By Ashley Wermick |

According to The Associated Press, one in three American children are now obese or overweight.

In response to that statistic, First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the “Let’s Move” campaign last week, which aims to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. The campaign will make school lunches healthier, educate parents on healthy eating habits and encourage 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Elizabeth Binninger, director of food and nutrition services in the St. Johns County School District, said the campaign will be difficult for schools. She said school-aged children are required by law to eat between 600 and 800 calories for lunch every day.

“Generally, fruits and vegetables don’t have a high amount of calories,” Binninger said. “This means that if we have to increase the amount vegetables, we will subsequently have to add more food to each plate. This will eventually cause us to have to raise the cost of lunch, which in turn upsets parents.”

Binninger has seen numerous children throwing away their fruits and vegetables at lunch.

“I think that before the campaign begins, the government should see exactly how much healthy food is being wasted because children refuse to eat it,” Binninger said.

Jodi Douglas, a registered nutritionist for public schools in St. Johns County, believes that parents should teach their children healthy habits prior to entering school.

“Healthy eating and education begins in the home,” Douglas said. “Kids learn from exposure. If parents have healthy items in home, kids are more likely to eat healthy. As a dietitian, we also encourage moderation.”

As a grandmother and retired teacher, Nancy Orlando has witnessed firsthand the change in childhood eating habits and activity.

“When I was teaching, I noticed that the students were getting progressively larger every year,” Orlando said. “There’s only so much schools can do though. It really depends on parent involvement in their children’s health.”

She said that by enforcing healthy habits in her grandchildren, she hopes they will not become overweight.

“There is no excuse for children not to be going outside and doing physical activities,” Orlando said. “Especially in this area there is really no excuse. Children can walk on the beach, ride bikes or play one of the playgrounds around here.”

Although her daughter is only in pre-school, Christina Ritch thinks she is on the right track to a healthy lifestyle.

“She loves fruit and will eat almost every vegetable,” Ritch said. “It’s not a struggle, she genuinely loves healthy food.”

Ritch also makes sure her daughter receives physical activity daily.

“I try to take her to the park every day,” Ritch said. “I’ve seen some kids whose best friend is the TV and I don’t want that for my daughter.”

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