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Health experts share insights on healthy dining for kids

This is the first article in a two-part series on the CIA's Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids Conference

Editor's note: The following column is from Healthy Dining, a company that has been at the forefront of restaurant nutrition since 1990. This series provides restaurant operators with information on industry-related nutrition topics. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nation's Restaurant News.

Uniting one of the hottest trends in the food industry — healthier kids’ meals — with one of the most important public health issues — childhood obesity — was the focus of the Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids Conference in May.

The conference, held at the CIA’s western-themed San Antonio facility, attracted nationwide stakeholders including chefs, food suppliers, school officials, and health advocates, all of whom are passionate about helping America’s kids live long and high-quality lives. Several of these experts gave their insights on healthy dining for kids. Here's a look at what they had to say.

This is the first article in a two-part series. The second article will address how restaurants can rise to the challenge of offering healthful kids’ meals that taste great.

David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D.
Pediatrician and researcher at the Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor at the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Ludwig opened the Healthy Kids Conference with a presentation that revealed the alarming rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other potentially serious health conditions that are rapidly increasing in children and teens. Dr. Ludwig emphasized that not only will these diseases shorten the lifespan of those affected, but they could also bankrupt the health care system.

Dr. Ludwig, described as an "obesity warrior" by Time Magazine, has developed and led research on the effectiveness of a low-glycemic diet for the treatment of obesity and other nutrition-related conditions both in adults and children.

High-glycemic foods are rapidly metabolized by the body, which then causes blood sugar to rise, followed by a "crash" in blood levels. This disruption in the balance of blood sugar levels causes overeating and may be associated with behavioral and emotional issues in children. Low-glycemic foods, on the other hand, are metabolized slowly, so blood sugar levels are maintained at optimal levels.

Dr. Ludwig also provided a thought-provoking overview of the chronology of the human diet and how it has changed over time, leading to the crisis our nation is facing now. He discussed the caveman’s Paleolithic Age diet of wild plants that were gathered and animals that were hunted; the "traditional" diet, where most foods were prepared at home with minimal processing; and the current "ultra-processed" diet heavily laden with corn, soy and wheat, as well as "ingredients that were never in our food supply."

Margo Wootan, D.Sc.
Nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Dr. Wootan, who is known for her initiatives in spurring menu labeling legislation and trans fat bans, spoke about the efforts she is involved in to ultimately transform how food is advertised and marketed to kids. She discussed the powerful correlations among advertising directed at kids, especially related to characters and toys, and how those shape children’s food preferences, which then undermine their health. She also emphasized that “marketing sells” and food and restaurant companies should be directing their marketing efforts to sell healthy foods.

Dr. Wootan mentioned Disney, Arby’s, Darden, McDonald’s and the restaurants participating in the Kids LiveWell Program for their efforts in offering healthier kids choices. She cited that Disney has transitioned to providing healthy sides and beverages with their kids’ meals as the default, rather than automatically offering fries and sodas — and two-thirds of the orders maintain the healthy default.

“It is good that more restaurants are paying attention to the healthfulness of their children's meals," she said. "However, more needs to be done. Still too many children’s meals at restaurants are high in calories, sodium and saturated fat. I hope restaurants will accelerate progress on their own. If not, states and localities will continue to seek ways to spur improvements, such as Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to limit soda portion sizes or the laws to set nutrition standards for kids' meals that can be sold with toys in San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Calif."

David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P.M., P.A.C.P.
Founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center

Dr. Katz is a renowned expert and is known internationally for his scientific research in nutrition, weight management and chronic disease prevention. Dr. Katz shared his “carrot instead of stick” approach that stems from his own experiences parenting five children fused with years of scientific research in preventive medicine.

The carrot is, “providing kids with a better future … the best and longest life possible.” He emphasized that feeding kids healthfully is not taking anything away from them but instead giving them the “building materials” they need, through nutritious foods, to grow and learn and live a full life. “Vitality should be the birthright of every child,” he said.

Dr. Katz and his colleagues have developed an array of innovative programs and tools used in schools and communities to empower those of all ages to take health into their own hands. His newest endeavor, Vitality Rap, aims to deliver motivating health messages to tweens and teens in formats they embrace, such as music and YouTube. The first Unjunk Yourself! rap video, includes three of his kids in an inspiring music video that is receiving rave reviews and shows great promise in starting a teen revolution for healthy eating.

Contact Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., at [email protected].

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