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1999. Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France. Family Guy premiered on televisions across the world and gas was only $1.22.
That same year, childhood obesity exceeded 30 percent.
While families across the country look for faster and more convenient options, an epidemic has surfaced that can lead to more long-term health issues than any other disease.
“When you hear, ‘quench your thirst’ what is the first image you see?” asked Lisa Santora, chief medical officer for the Beach Cities Health District. “Most people think about soda, not the obvious answer, water.”
In 2003, the Beach Cities Health District was shocked by the statistics of obesity among children within the community. Each year, more and more children were reaching for the sugary drinks instead of water. “It was a problem that was identified and we realized we had to do something about it.” Santora said.
The Beach Cities Health Districts came together to figure out a way to turn those numbers around. Instead of dealing directly with obesity, they created LiveWell Kids, a program focused on preventative care and education.
Throughout elementary schools of Redondo Beach Unified School District, the program has increased the amount of student physical activity, improved knowledge and behaviors regarding healthy eating, increased access to healthy foods and provided parents with nutritional knowledge and promoted a healthy environment starting in 2004.
That year, the health district screened the kids for their body mass indexes, a method for evaluating fat levels, and informed parents of the results. “It was just a screening, not a diagnosis of overweight or obesity, and we recommended they see their childcare provider for (an additional) screening. I know it’s hard for a parent to receive that letter,” Santora said. “I think one of the things we had to deal with was the normalization of obesity in our country. We have increased the size of our theatre and plane seats – size eight is now a size four. The further we go to normalizing it, the harder it is to confront these issues.”
Since the beginning of the program, which has also been implemented in other school districts, the body mass index levels of children in the Beach Cities area has gone down 5.1 percent, according to a health district report.
Through LiveWell Kids, the students have an eight-minute morning activity before school – six minutes of vigorous activity and two minutes of stretching. “It gets them ready to start their day,” said Donna Scotti, Program Manager for Youth Services. “They go back to the classroom focused.”
Santora and her team also invited parents to volunteer in the schools. Parents were trained in nutrition and then brought into the schools to teach the children.
“The parents are the ones who deliver the message,” said Santora. “After the lesson, the kids get ‘LiveWell Kid updates’ saying what their child learned that day, hopefully helping the parents who don’t volunteer to learn how to make their home a healthier environment.”
About 200 parent docents are involved in the program, not necessarily enough to make sure each household in the district gets the information.
To counter that issue, the LiveWell kids program has other programs to better reach more families, like the Food Fun Fest, a district-wide event for parents and kids to learn about the “fun of eating food,” Santora said.
Even if parents can’t get personally involved in the program, kids will often come home and share their knowledge with their household, Santora said.
“It’s a wonderful program. The kids are so excited about the nutrition and gardening and exercise, it’s just very rewarding,” Rebecca Moore, a parent docent at Beryl Heights Elementary said.
Along with exercise programs and in-class healthy eating education, many of the schools have planted a garden to teach the kids first hand about healthy food.
“Seeing a child that might be a picky eater pick something from the garden and actually liking is very rewarding,” said Lisa Green, a parent docent. “I think nutrition and gardening are very important for kids to try new foods and live a healthy lifestyle.”
The beauty of the program is that it is kid driven, Santora said. “It truly is from the mouth of babes. Unfortunately, a lot of our children haven’t seen healthy foods. They have grown up in supermarkets where it is all processed,” she said, adding, “Some of the headway we will make in the childhood obesity epidemic is with children coming to their parents and supporting them to be healthy.”
Children are encouraged to touch, smell and taste the foods. Often times they are even included in the planting and harvesting and are allowed to bring some of the produce home.
“I like to eat from the garden,” said eight-year-old Liana Moore. “All the kids love to have the LiveWell program and they like looking at all the things they plant and they just eat everything they plant.”
Putting the pieces together through the LiveWell Kids program and incorporating healthy living education has helped the health district counter current trends and help educate the next generation on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
“It should be fun to go on a hike or run around like a spaz on the beach,” said Santora. “We all were kids once and we now have our own children to remind us of what it is to have fun both with physical activity and with foods.”
Winy’s Picks from the LiveWell Kids Program
Butternut squash is a popular type of winter squash that is readily available in the fall season. When it comes to nutrients, recent research studies have documented how fantastic butternut squash can be to our health. Butternut squash has more vitamin A than pumpkin. It is also loaded with flavonoid compounds that are protective against certain cancers. Butternut squash is also rich in B-complex vitamins and contains minerals like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium and prosperous. To enjoy butternut squash, here is an easy recipe that you might want to try.
Sautéed Butternut Squash
1 16-oz package cubed butternut squash (can be purchased from Costco or Trader Joe’s)
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
Cinnamon and sugar to taste
1-Sauté pre-cut butternut squash with butter or oil under medium-low heat.
2-Simmer until squash is tender but not “mush” about 10 minutes
3-Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar over the dish
Butternut Squash-Tossed Pasta with Thyme and Pecorino Romano
1 16-oz package Trader Joe’s cubed butternut squash
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
8 oz cooked Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola-Walnut Tortellini
1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano
1-Preheat the oven to 400°.
2-Place the butternut squash in an ovenproof dish and add the vegetable oil, curry powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Toss to fully coat the squash with the oil and seasonings.
3-Cover the dish and roast until very soft, about 45-50 minutes. Uncover the dish for the last 10 minutes of the roasting process to bring out a nice, toasty color in the squash.
4-While the squash is still hot, add the garlic and thyme and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and toss gently until fully coated. Garnish with the grated Pecorino Romano.