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Healthy Food for Back to School
Press release: September 1998

With school bells ringing and September officially here, it’s time to take a look at one topic that is often left off of the "back to school" checklist-- nutrition. And with recent attention around obesity statistics and lack of good nutrition among U.S. children, it’s a perfect time to take a good look at what we’re feeding our kids. In 1996, for example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that nearly 25 percent of youth age 6 to 17 are officially overweight. Other studies show the low percentage of children getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. EarthSave International, a national non-profit educational organization, is calling attention to the pitfalls of the Standard American Diet-- centered on meat and dairy products-- and is encouraging parents to shift toward a more "plant-based" diet for their kids. It’s all part of the "Healthy Food for Healthy Kids" programs sponsored by EarthSave chapters around the country this September.

Getting an early start

Today most people realize that we are plagued by chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. And nearly a decade after the Surgeon General warned that 68 percent of diseases are diet-related, people are beginning to re-examine the impact of what they eat. But few people realize that many chronic conditions take root in the behaviors we form during childhood. For example, a study released last year said that 70 percent of 12-year olds in the U.S. have a significant amount of atheroscelerotic plaque in their arteries. The fatty streaks that plaque builds upon have been found in the arteries of children as young as 2 years of age. EarthSave wants to encourage parents to adopt dietary habits with their family that will help prevent disease. "We’ve come to accept that suffering from these conditions is normal. But if we can teach our kids different eating habits, we can reduce many of these risks for future generations," explains EarthSave President Stacey Vicari.

Powerful plant foods

One trend has emerged from the onslaught of medical advice that consumers and parents receive today-- if you eat less animal foods (meat and dairy) in your diet and more plant foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, you will be on the road to good health. Groups like the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association echo this advice. Plant foods are loaded with health-promoting ingredients such as fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Just as important is what plants don’t have. They are cholesterol free and almost all are low in saturated fat. A diet rich in plant foods has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, certain cancers (colon, breast, prostate), diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Plant foods and kids: Myth versus reality

But is it possible to raise a child on a vegetarian diet and still meet the nutritional needs for their growing bodies? According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the answer is: with careful planning, yes. "Vegetarian diets can be healthful for people of all ages," stated Julie Covington, a Gastonia, N.C., registered dietitian and chair of ADA’s vegetarian nutrition practice group. "The toddler and preschool years particularly are important for developing healthy eating patterns that can establish a foundation for a healthful adult diet," she explained in a press release this summer. This is true for both lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (no meat, fish, fowl but do include dairy and eggs), as well as vegan diets (no meat, fish, fowl, dairy, or eggs) The ADA goes on to explain simple and practical every day techniques for how children can get enough calories, fat, protein, calcium, Vitamin D, iron, Vitamin B12, and zinc from vegetarian or vegan diets. Vicari warned that parents against paying attention solely to the potential pitfalls of plant-based diets for kids. "While it’s true that vegetarian diets need to be balanced, the same could be said for any diet. The science shows the value of plant-based diets. The real "risk" that adults and parents should be worrying about is to continue eating the ‘normal’ diet. This is what’s giving adults and kids alarming rates of disease," she added. Parents seeking more information about including plant-based foods for their children can contact EarthSave at 800-362-3648.

"Healthy Food for Healthy Kids" programs

This month EarthSave will be holding programs entitled "Healthy Food for Healthy Kids" in chapters around the country. The programs will discuss the benefits of moving toward a more vegetarian diet for children.