With one in three children in the United States overweight, childhood obesity is now the number-one health concern among American parents.

 

And carrying this extra weight is now causing problems among children that didn’t used to show up until adulthood, including high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. There are also psychological effects and a fear that unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity could result in a lower life expectancy for these children than for their parents.

 

To help his students learn about healthier foods, Dan Campbell, physical education teacher at Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast, led an interesting class during National Nutrition Month in March. The exercise was based on the “Go, slow and whoa!” food program.

 

When a class of fifth-graders entered the gym for physical education class recently, they saw several tables set out with pictures of 15 food items spread around.

 

After dividing the class into teams of two that circled the gym, Campbell explained that one of the team members was to jog in place while the other skipped up to the table, selected a food item, and then skipped back. On the back of the picture of each food item was a number and an exercise that the two students were supposed to complete together—such as 30 crunches, five jumping jacks, 15 push-ups or one toe touch.

 

As the exercise started, comments such as “I want French fries;” “I like bacon;” “Oh, boy, a doughnut;” and “I’ll take soda.”

 

The tune changed when the back of the French fries picture read “Run in place for one minute;” the bacon called for 20 sit-ups; the soda was 15 push-ups and the doughnut carried 30 crunches.

 

The reaction was much better from students who selected 2 percent milk and did “one toe touch” and the low-fat cottage cheese, which was five jumping jacks.

 

Some of the students were clearly catching on and in the second round, many were more apt to pick an apple, skim milk and fish.

 

Then Campbell asked if they knew what the message on the back was. “It’s what is not as good for you” and “The more unhealthy the food, the more stuff you have to do” were the two top answers.

 

“It’s what you have to do to burn off the calories from the food item,” the teacher explained. “Different foods have different fat values…Know what you are putting in your body.”

 

He said the glazed doughnut was probably the worse food item on the table.

 

“It’s dipped in grease, which is animal fat, and then the glaze is put on. But it tastes much better than it sounds like, doesn’t it? Still, it only satisfies your taste buds and does nothing good for your body,” Campbell said.

 

He then asked the students to rate the food pictures he held up. They had a green card for a “go food” (something that is good to eat almost anytime), yellow for a “slow food” (foods that shouldn’t be eaten every day), and red for a “whoa food” (food to avoid, except for a once-in-a-while indulgence).

 

The students knew for sure that an apple was a “go” but they weren’t so sure about apple juice.

 

“I love apple juice but I know there is more sugar in the juice than in an apple. It takes a number of apples to squeeze to get a glass of juice,” Campbell explained.

 

Soda was a “whoa” for all the students but there was disagreement about diet soda.

 

“It’s “slow” because there is not as much sugar but it’s a “whoa” because it has chemicals that you may not want to put in your body,” the teacher explained. “It’s your body. Know what’s good for it.”

 

Then he explained that while peanuts are a “go,” it depends on the brand of the peanut butter as to what it is.

 

“It depends on what is added in. It can go from 200 calories to 800 calories just to satisfy the sides of the tongue,” Campbell concludes.

 

Later, a second-grade class came in, and they had a much more difficult time trying to figure out the connection between the pictures of foods and exercises on the back, until Campbell explained.

 

“What you put in your body is your decision. But what you put in your bodies, you need to burn,” he explains.

 

Assisting Campbell with the lesson was School Health Coordinator Linda Harkopt, who is employed through the Journey to Health program at Waldo County General Hospital.