Nutritional choices send mixed messages to kids

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Dietitian Betsy Menge sees the effects of obesity on Craig residents all the time.

She helps a number of adults and children handle weight issues by encouraging them to keep food journals, exercise and read food labels.

But the director of food and nutritional services for The Memorial Hospital knows that it will take a lifestyle change for most people to win the battle of the bulge.

"We know that one in every five children are overweight," she said. "We have to look at our priorities to see if we're making the best choices."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 9 million children between ages 6 and 19 were overweight in 2000.

The center's studies also show that children without proper nutrition are more prone to depression and to have health problems later in life.

To combat those statistics, local leaders introduced a broad-based program called Moffat County Healthy People 2010 more than a year ago.

The program offers classes that encourage residents to exercise and eat healthy foods. A number of residents, including children, can be spotted walking with pedometers trying to increase exercise efforts as a result of the program.

But children may receive mixed messages in choosing healthy foods and habits, Menge said.

One example is Craig's high number of fast-food restaurants, she said.

Another are the options available for school lunches for Moffat County School District students.

Students at Moffat County High School are often offered choices of pizza, fries, and ice cream as well as salad, fruit and yogurt. Junior and senior students can eat lunch off-campus, choosing from a host of Craig restaurants.

During an average lunch, however, many students go for the more fattening fare. For example, students largely neglected the fruit and yogurt bowl during a recent lunch at the high school.

Judy Baker, the director of food services at the school says the food choices are plentiful enough for students to make healthy choices.

But eating healthy isn't always students' top priority.

"Some kids are pretty health-conscious but some aren't," she said. "Some kids like to soak all their food in ranch dressing."

During an average lunch, Baker estimates she sells about 300 to 400 food items, which include nachos, hamburgers, chicken wings, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Local school board member Gary Ellgen said the school district, on whole, does a pretty good job balancing healthy food and exercise requirements.

But the board may have to rethink the message it sends students, especially at the high school.

A school store sells candy bars and soda. A contract with Pepsi spreads 18 soda machines across campus with sales receipts that benefit school programs.

"Sometimes it's a candy bar and a soda and that's lunch," he said. "I think it's an area we ought to look at."

Ellgen admitted he wasn't one to preach about health habits, citing his food choices weren't always admirable.

Getting adults in on making healthy choices may be the ticket to keep children's habit in check.

"If we can get adults to look at their habits it would be beneficial for everyone," Menge said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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