Thirteen year-old Nicole Posada is persnickety about food labels. If the ingredients state an item contains more than 10 grams of sugar, she'll simply choose something else that's more healthful. But making the right choices wasn't always that easy. But Tamara Swett helped change everything.
Tamara, a Norwalk resident, is a registered dietician who runs the Kids Healthy Weight program at Norwalk Hospital, which meets the last three Tuesdays of every month. The program is a series of classes that help educate kids -- and just as importantly, their families -- about the importance of choosing nutrient-rich foods, as well as that of regular exercise. "We don't put kids on diets," says Tamara. "We help them alter their lifestyles in a healthy way."
And that's a good thing because statistically, kids' lifestyles are becoming less and less healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, with the prevalence of obesity among children between the ages of 6 and 13 increasing from more than 6 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008. And childhood obesity is particularly troubling because extra pounds can start children on a path to health problems once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
But Nicole and her family, including her mother Olga Vallejo and her five year-old brother, have no intention of becoming statistics. "We used to eat a lot of junk food that wasn't good for us," says Nicole. "But Tamara taught us about eating healthy things, like fruits and whole grain snacks, and she helped us understand about reading food labels. I read them to my mom, too, because I'm better at English!"
Tamara explains her class is "interactive," and is replete with visual aids such as fun, informational videos and colorful plastic food "models" that help teach portion sizes. And every class incorporates some kind of exercise and home exercise tip, as well as discussions about self-esteem. Participants also play games that help teach the importance of recognizing what foods they should eat lots of (fresh fruits and vegetables), and which they should try to avoid. Nicole points out that she used to enjoy eating "chips and candy and stuff like that, but now my favorite snack is peanut butter on an apple."
Nicole's mother, Olga, is thrilled with the results of the class. Holding back tears, she explains: "I'm so proud of my daughter and her hard work. She is healthy and happy and nothing is better than that."
For information about Norwalk Hospital's nutritional programs, call Cindy Allen, at (203) 855-3548.
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