PORTLAND, Ore. – To combat rising obesity rates among children, experts say healthy eating habits are key. One program aiming to put kids on track for healthier food choices is Food Roots in Tillamook County, which partners with six schools in the area.
Its farm-to-school program manager, Rachel Pettit, said one approach they use to encourage better diet decisions among students is to introduce judgment-free opportunities to try new vegetables. As she put it, not “yucking someone’s yum” can help break down the stigma around healthy foods.
“When you say that what someone else is eating is ‘gross,’ that really can hurt someone else’s feelings and have a negative impact on how they view themselves, or how they view what they’re eating,” she said.
Food Roots receives support from the local coordinated-care organization, Columbia Pacific CCO. In Oregon, more than one in 10 children between ages 10 and 17 is considered obese, according to the latest report from the Trust for America’s Health.
Kristen Case, nurse practitioner manager for Multnomah County Student Health Centers, said 30% to 50% of the patients they see are considered obese. The centers are located at high schools across the county, serving kids ages 5 to 18, regardless of whether their families have health insurance.
Case said she is seeing diabetes diagnosed at younger ages, and noted other long-term health effects, from hypertension and liver disease to an association with mental-health conditions. She offered advice to parents for healthier eating.
“This sounds super-simple,” she said, “but I think it’s really important is, if families can sit down together for a meal, and families helping to choose healthy options that are in the house. Being a good role model.”
For Pettit, helping kids choose healthy options at school has translated to change outside the classroom. She’s heard from parents who say their kids were picky eaters – but after a taste test with Food Roots, they want to eat vegetables.
“That really shows to us that what we’re doing is positively impacting these youths and is making its way home,” she said.
The Trust for America’s Health report is online at tfah.org.