Healthy Children - January 2012

INCCRRA in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services is providing information on childhood obesity through its website. The intent is to communicate to child care practitioners, parents and others who visit the website, the seriousness of obesity in young children and to link them to current research on the issue.

Helpful suggestions for meal planning, recipes and healthy physical activities are presented on this site not just for overweight children but the health of the entire family.

New ideas are listed every month. Each month a new column on this issue of national concern is posted. It answers questions you have regarding heavy children and healthy lifestyles -- be sure to check it out.

For more information contact the Illinois Department of Human Services at (217) 785-9336 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can also contact your local Illinois Child Care Resource and Referral Agency.

The consumer health information on childhood obesity provided by the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies on the site or by any links to other sites is for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. This web site generally links to other sites that are informational in nature and does not link to commercial sites that are primarily intended for the sale of products or services. Use of this site or any links to other sites does not replace medical consultations with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or a loved one. You should promptly seek professional care if you have any concern about the health of you or a loved one and you should always consult your physician before you or a loved one starts a fitness regimen.



Childhood Obesity Facts

  • Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
  • In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors


Health Effects of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being.

Immediate health effects:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.


Long-term health effects:

  • Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.



  • Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.
  • The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.
  • Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behavior.


Key Resources



Doctors Discourage Media Use

In 1999, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discouraged TV viewing for children under the age of 2. They say talking, reading and creative play help young children learn. New research supports AAP’s statement. Doctors still urges parents to keep children under age 2 as “screen-free” as possible.

Children have access to TV at home, in daycare and even in cars. Surveys report that:

  • 90% of parents say their children under age 2 watch some sort of media.
  • Almost 1/3 of 3-year olds have a TV in their bedroom.
  • Many families report having a TV on at least 6 hours per day.
  • 39% of families with infants and young children have their TV on all the time.


New research shows that:

  • Many video programs for infants are labeled as educational. No evidence supports these claims. Children under age 2 cannot grasp the content of the programs. They are unable to pay attention.
  • Media use does not help with language skills in children under the age of 2. In fact, studies show negative effect.
  • Parents in a room with the TV on have decreased parent/child interaction. Children need “talk time” with parents and adults.
  • Background television distracts a young child’s attention during play.
  • Children younger than 5 years of age who watch TV spend less time in creative play. They do not interact as much with parents or siblings.
  • Parents in homes with heavy media spend less parent-child reading time.


Young children learn best when they interact with humans, not screens. They AAP tells parents to:

  • Set media limits for children under age 2.
  • Provide unstructured playtime for your child.
  • Let your child play safely near you if you cannot actively play with her.
  • Keep a TV out of your child’s bedroom.
  • Realize your media use can have a negative effect on your child.



Eating on a Budget - The 3 P’s

Plan meals and snacks for the week according to an established budget.
Find quick and easy recipes online.
Include meals that will “stretch” expensive food items (stews, casseroles, stir‐fried dishes).
Make a grocery list.
Check for sales and coupons in the local paper or online and consider discount stores.
Ask about a loyalty card at your grocery store.
Buy groceries when you are not hungry and when you are not too rushed.
Stick to the grocery list and stay out of the aisles that don’t contain items on your list.
Buy store brands if cheaper.
Find and compare unit prices listed on shelves to get the best price.
Purchase some items in bulk or as family packs which usually cost less.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables in season; buy canned vegetables with less salt.
Pre‐cut fruits and vegetables, individual cups of yogurt, and instant rice and hot cereal are convenient, but usually cost more than those that require a bit more prep time.
Good low‐cost items available all year include:
  • Protein — beans (garbanzo, black, cannellini)
  • Vegetables — carrots, greens, potatoes
  • Fruit — apples, bananas
Some meal items can be prepared in advance; pre‐cook on days when you have time.
Double or triple up on recipes and freeze meal‐sized containers of soups and casseroles or divide into individual portions.
Try a few meatless meals by substituting with beans and peas or try “no‐cook” meals like salads.
Incorporate leftovers into a subsequent meal.
Be creative with a fruit or vegetable and use it in different ways during the week.



Healthy Snacks: Quick tips for parents

Healthy snack ideas

  • “Ants on a log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins)
  • Fresh or canned fruit (in 100% juice, not syrup) with fat-free or low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • Whole-grain crackers with fat-free or low-fat cheese
  • Frozen grapes (rinse and freeze grapes overnight)
  • Whole-wheat bread or apple slices with peanut butter
  • Quesadillas (fat-free or low-fat cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla)
  • Unsalted pretzels or air-popped popcorn
  • Baked tortilla chips and salsa
  • Whole-wheat pita bread with hummus
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk or water instead of sugary fruit drinks and soda


Put fresh fruit in a bowl at eye-level in the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter. It will be easier for kids to see and grab on the go.

  • Put dried fruits and nuts, fresh veggies, or fruit in small baggies.
  • Pack some fat-free or low-fat string cheese sticks.


Set the rules

  • Teach your kids to ask before they help themselves to snacks.
  • Eat snacks at the table or in the kitchen, not in front of the TV.
  • Serve snacks in a bowl. Don’t let kids eat snack foods directly out of the bag or box.
  • Drink water or low-fat or fat-free milk instead of soda or juice.


For more information on nutrition and kids, visit:



10 tips Nutrition Education Series

smart shopping for veggies and fruits

It is possible to fit vegetables and fruits into any budget. Making nutritious choices does not have to hurt your wallet. Getting enough of these foods promotes health and can reduce your risk of certain diseases. There are many low-cost ways to meet your fruit and vegetable needs.

Celebrate the season
Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. They are easy to get, have more flavor, and are usually less expensive. Your local farmer’s market is a great source of seasonal produce.
Why pay full price?
Check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales, coupons, and specials that will cut food costs. Often, you can get more for less by visiting larger grocery stores (discount grocers if available).
Stick to your list
Plan out your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list. You will save money by buying only what you need. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Shopping after eating will make it easier to pass on the tempting snack foods. You’ll have more of your food budget for vegetables and fruits.
Try canned or frozen
Compare the price and the number of servings from fresh, canned, and frozen forms of the same veggie or fruit. Canned and frozen items may be less expensive than fresh. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
Buy small amounts frequently
Some fresh vegetables and fruits don’t last long. Buy small amounts more often to ensure you can eat the foods without throwing any away
Buy in bulk when items are on sale
For fresh vegetables or fruits you use often, a large size bag is the better buy. Canned or frozen fruits or vegetables can be bought in large quantities when they are on sale, since they last much longer.
Store brands = savings
Opt for store brands when possible. You will get the same or similar product for a cheaper price. If your grocery store has a membership card, sign up for even more savings.
Keep it simple
Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Pre-cut, pre-washed, ready-to-eat, and processed foods are convenient, but often cost much more than when purchased in their basic forms.
Plant your own
Start a garden—in the yard or a pot on the deck—for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals. Herbs, cucumbers, peppers, or tomatoes are good options for beginners. Browse through a local library or online for more information on starting a garden.
Plan and cook smart
Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews, or other dishes in advance. This saves time and money. Add leftover vegetables to casseroles or blend them to make soup. Overripe fruit is great for smoothies or baking.


Go to for more information.



Are Snack Bars Too Good to Be True?

Your grocery store snack aisle is jam-packed with “power” bars, fortified granola bars and other high-fiber bars thanks to the recent marketing explosion of these products. Based on their labels, they seem like healthy snacks for your kids — but are they? Many snack bar boxes barely have enough room to tout all the ingredients. Consider a “fiber-filled, high-protein, chocolatey-peanut butter granola energy bar.” It almost sounds too good to be true. Turns out, it probably is. “Many snack bars tend to be highly processed and lacking any real nutrition,” says Tara Todd, RD, LD, a registered pediatric dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Also, not all fiber is created equally. Some ‘fake fibers’ can be added to foods that make us think these products contain a lot of heart healthy fiber but they don’t.”

Understanding the Fiber Factor

Fake fibers? Todd explains that the FDA is now allowing ingredients such as polydextrose, inulin and maltodextrin to be considered “fiber” for labeling purposes, though none of these has been shown to have any of the health benefits of traditional fiber. These same ingredients are being added to a range of foods that don’t normally contain fiber, such as ice cream, yogurt and even some cereals.

“For healthy fiber, rely on fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Todd advises. Cereal bars marketed to kids aren’t a good choice either, she adds. “That white stuff in the middle is not milk! The gold standard for breakfast is a bowl of whole grain cereal, milk and a piece of fruit.” So-called energy bars are not any better.

“An energy bar is not the first thing a child should reach for as a snack or before an athletic event,” Todd says. “A better choice would be combining a carbohydrate and protein. For example, trail mix made with whole grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit.” She advises that kids eat snack bars sparingly and only when in a real crunch for time. “We never want anyone to skip breakfast so if a bar is your child’s best bet for breakfast, then choose wisely!”

How to Choose Wisely

While non-processed foods are always a better choice, Todd does have some tips on how to choose a healthier snack bar:

  • Always avoid trans fat. If the words “partially hydrogenated” are on the ingredient list, the product contains trans fat.
  • Assess the nutritional value by looking at the percentage of daily value (% DV) on the label. Five percent is considered low; 20 percent is high. Fat, cholesterol and sodium should be on the low side; protein, fiber and vitamins should be on the high side.
  • If sugar is the first thing on the ingredient list, it’s not a nutritious bar. Ingredients are typically listed in descending order, meaning the first ingredient is the most prevalent in the product.


Now for a healthy reality check, compare the complex list of snack bar ingredients, some natural, some not so natural, to the simple apple, which is also a fiber-filled, low-calorie, no-cholesterol, no-sodium portable snack, and a good source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

Power to the apple!