July 13, 2012
Diet dish ... chicken breast with bok choy. Photo: Vanessa Levis
Step One: Pull everything from your kitchen pantry and inspect the ingredient labels closely. Look for glucose, sucrose, fructose, any kind of sugar. Now, for a reality check, consider that about 4.2 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.
Step Two: Open the fridge and calculate the sugar load in sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and sports drinks. Visualise the 10 teaspoons of sugar in some 600ml sugary drinks.
Step Three: Congratulate yourself. You now know almost as much as a five-year-old. That is, a five-year-old being schooled in healthy eating in a new, innovative paediatric weight management program for kids aged five to 18 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Centre in Sacramento, California.
The program echoes heightening concern over the obesity epidemic in the United States.
Obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes, a chronic ailment once known as adult-onset but now increasingly seen in youths who lack access to healthy food and activity choices. Diabetes can cause heart disease, strokes, amputation and, when advanced, can bring on early death.
Already, some of the youths enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente program are pre-diabetic, with higher than normal blood pressure and high lipids levels, said Dr John Struthers, a paediatrician who helped develop the program.
Though the program is free, it's in high demand and competitive. Families are screened before being allowed to participate.
Every 10 weeks, 20 new participants are added to the 20-week program, but not before parents sign contracts, agreeing to support their child, attend the sessions and provide healthy meal choices.
Making the program a family affair is one of the benefits that Tiffany Romano, 16, a participant since late April, most enjoys.
"I like how the family is involved and how we do activities," said Tiffany. "We have family meetings, take family walks and learn about food together."
When Tiffany attends weekly sessions, her father, Bryant Romano, is there to back her up. At age 50, her father said he's been watching his health, too, and he's shed around 21kg while accompanying his daughter.
The most surprising fact that Tiffany has learned so far, she says, is the extent to which sugar is found in processed foods, and that "low-fat" processed foods often have sugar added to fool the taste buds.
Tiffany said her goal is "to be healthy and more active". She rises at 5am, works out, plays basketball and touch football, and has stuck to a regimen of chicken breasts, broccoli, protein drinks and salads.
According to America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making modest behaviour changes such as improving food choices and upping physical activity to at least 150 minutes per week is enough to help participants lose five to seven per cent of their body weight. And that's enough to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 per cent in people at high risk.
One of the key components of the program is a reward of sorts that the kids have to earn by coming to each session on time and demonstrating their commitment. It's a money-clip-sized wireless physical activity tracker they wear, or pocket, to track calories spent walking, climbing stairs, running, even dancing.
Called a Fitbit, the device automatically uploads data from up to 4.5 metres away to a base station connected to a computer.
The information then goes to a website that shows the day's activity in a pie chart that represents the past 24 hours and how much of it was spent being lightly active, fairly active, very active or sedentary.
The device appeals to the kids because it syncs to mobile phones they use to input what they ate and information about their activities. Then they, or their parents, can go online to check progress.