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Building healthy kids is a passion for Guilford resident Dr. Deb Kennedy, who left her university research position to pursue a dream of implementing a national school program. Her mission: "To provide families an easy way to understand, organize, and improve their child's diet and activity levels so that you can all live healthier every day."
She'll discuss her school program and give tips to parents about nutrition and eating habits at a special program on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Guilford Free Library.
"I started Build Healthy Kids because, quite simply, I love kids. I think they are as close as we can get to heaven on earth. I believe children are wise, and given the right information and tools, they will change the world and their bodies for the better," Kennedy states on her website.
By way of her Build Healthy Kids monthly newsletters, which highlight different aspects of nutritional eating for children each month, Kennedy gets the word out to 160,000 students from Maine to Alaska.
Formerly an associate director of Nutrition at Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center, Kennedy has been working on this program for the past four years and most recently enlisted the help of students in the Melissa Jones after school program as well as 330 students at the Calvin Leete Elementary School to gather some pilot data for the program.
Students received the monthly newsletter beginning in September of 2012 and throughout the past school year. The newsletters are double sided; one side is geared toward the children while the other contains information for parents and teachers.
"Some teachers chose to talk about the newsletter in their classes, which was a great way to spread the word about nutrition and get the kids on board with healthy eating," Kennedy said.
To date, some of the data collected implies that there is a link among improved body mass index (BMI) numbers, attitude toward healthy food, and knowledge of healthy food and eating behaviors with the implementation of the informational newsletters to the students and families.
An example of some information included in the newsletters is: "Protein is healthy or unhealthy depending on the fat that comes along with it. Amino acids can either hang out with 'bullies' or the 'nice kids.' In red meat, protein is surrounded by saturated fats, or the 'bullies,' while fish hangs out with healthy friendly fats."
"We found that the kids who read the newsletters were liking healthy foods more and liking unhealthy food less, which is great," said Kennedy, who earned her PhD in nutritional biochemistry from Tufts University.
"I am so excited about being able to help kids eat healthier and to make more informed choices about the food they put their body," explained Kennedy. "We reached the tipping point I feel when it became apparent that our children's generation will not live as long as our generation, and nutrition is one of the major reasons why.
"I looked at the diet of children with leukemia for my nutrition doctorate and was shocked to see that Coca Cola was the number-three source of calories," explained Kennedy.
"I feel that we as nutritionists have for decades been doing a disservice to parents by telling them to back off at the dinner table. Instead, we need to take control back at the dinner table, we know kids don't eat what they don't like and instead of eating good healthy food at dinner our children are eating their weight in processed sugar and snacks," Kennedy said.
She added, "We need to empower parents again. We all know how to teach our kids to eat healthy and we should listen to our instincts."
She urges parents to practice the "eat then treat" mantra and not to believe our kids when they say they are full.
"This could mean a number of things such as, 'I am full of eating what I don't want to eat. I want to get up from the table and play, I want my dessert,' but it rarely means that I am full," she said.
"Trust your parenting instincts to do what is best for your child and to feed them the best food you can. Make sure there is a fruit and vegetable available at every meal and feed kids with different personalities different ways," Kennedy said.
Kennedy will discuss her healthy eating initiative on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Guilford Free Library. For more information, visit www.guilfordfreelibrary.org or call 203-453-8282.