L.A. Digest West Edition

Local chef joins fight against child obesity

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Whole Food’s Chef Bryce Fluellen teamed up with the American Heart Association and LA’s Best after-school program April 1 at Dolores Huerta Elementary School to bring childhood obesity prevention methods to disadvantaged students through a special touring program.

The initiative, “Whole Heart Kids Festival,” is part of the Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens and Kids Cook with Heart programs designed to encourage healthy behaviors in young people.

“It is a combination of a farmers market so they can enjoy fresh and healthy produce,” Fluellen said. “We have a planning box so they can understand where fruits and vegetables come from. Then, we’ve added an exercise element so they can understand how important movement is.

“For added fun, we are having a potato sack race, jump rope contests, old school tug ‘o war and other games.

The program works on the notion that if children are offered healthier food options, they will choose them instead of selecting foods deemed as unhealthy.

The event included farmers market stands where students browsed and tasted various fresh produce, created healthy snacks and learned about nutrition.

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, according to the American Heart Association.

“As a professional chef for 15 years, I’ve known a lot of people who were affected by obesity,” Fluellen said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

“I‘ve had five people in my family whose lives have been affected by heart disease,” Fluellen said. “My mother had two stokes, my grandmother had two strokes, my father has diabetes and just had a kidney transplant”

First lady Michelle Obama has used her platform to raise awareness about childhood obesity. She recently put out a call to action, encouraging America’s chefs to work with their communities as part of the Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity.

“We are going to need everyone’s time and talent to solve the childhood obesity epidemic and our nation’s chefs have tremendous power as leaders on this issue because of their deep knowledge of food and nutrition and their standing in the community,” Obama said. “I want to thank them for joining the Let’s Move! Campaign.”

The program encourages chefs to adopt a local school and work with administrators and teachers to educate students about making healthier eating choices, as well as to develop nutritious cafeteria menus.

Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative is operated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Like Obama’s mandate calls for, Chef Fluellen is working to help children become involved in making healthier food choices.

“Being a chef and a gate-keeper of food, I felt that it was really important for me to share my knowledge of food with those in underserved areas like this,” Fluellen said.

For many children, healthy eating and exercise habits are inevitably formed at home.

The way parents talk about food, cook meals and eat are the most important influences of developing healthy eating habits for children.

According to a Stanford University report, the factor that puts children at greatest risk of being overweight is having obese parents.

“Parental obesity represents the most potent risk factor, a finding that confirms previous observations, and the connection between overweight parents and overweight children is likely due to a combination of genetics and family environmental influences”, said Dr. W. Stewart Agras, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford.

Agras also noted that a child’s temperament altered the effect of a parent’s obesity; 46 percent of children with a sensitive disposition and an overweight parent became overweight, compared with 19 percent of children without this disposition.

According to the American Obesity Association, pediatricians are reporting more frequent cases of obesity-related diseases such as type-2 diabetes, asthma and hypertension — diseases that once were considered adult conditions.

Research conducted at Harvard first linked TV watching to obesity more than 25 years ago.

Since then, extensive research has confirmed the link between TV viewing and obesity in children, in countries around the world.

There also is  increasing evidence that food and beverage marketing on television may be responsible for the TV–obesity link.

In 2006, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and 15 other major food and drink companies pledged to self-regulate food advertising during U.S. television shows aimed at children under the age of 12, through the voluntary Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

During the last three decades, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has increased dramatically in children.

Today, one in three children are diagnosed as being overweight or obese.

The CDC advocates prevention as one of the best practices to fight child obesity.

“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 behaviors,” the CDC said.