Food Fight: Generation X-tra Large

Millions of kids are struggling with their weight. In fact, today’s children are the first generation of Americans projected to have a shorter life span than their parents.

“I ate a lot of chips and junk like that,” says Durante.

“I’m trying to lose weight so I can play sports better,” says Kristen.

Are we killing our kids?

Unknowingly, we are killing them.

Durante looks and feels much older than his 12 years. “My hips hurt sometimes,” he says. Diagnosed with type two diabetes, he topped out at more than 300 pounds. Family members couldn’t keep the fridge full enough for him. “The amount of food they felt they needed to eat just drove me nuts!” says Mary, his cousin. What Durante wasn’t allowed to eat at home, he was getting at school.

“I’m a total believer there are no bad foods, just bad food choices,” says Maryann, food service director and registered dietician. The school Lazzaro works at now serves trans-fat free fries. They also replaced whole milk with one percent and skim. Pizza is made with whole grain crusts, and now kids can skip the burgers and head to the salad bar. Lunch room workers even found a healthier alternative to mayonnaise — Z-trim is trans fat free and calorie free. “I love it,” says Jay-Jay. “I love using it on my French fries and everything.”

Schools are also keeping a close watch on children’s body mass index (BMI). Experts say children who are between the 5th and 85th percentile should be considered normal while those who are between the 85th and 95th percentiles should be considered overweight. Kids who are above the 95th percentile are often considered clinically obese.

Twelve-year-old Kristen is in the 90th percentile based on the BMI index. Even though she’s lost some weight, she is still considered overweight. “They make fun of you, basically,” she says. Kristen’s mother Tammy knows her daughter’s pain all too well. “It takes me back to when I was a child, and I know how I felt. It’s really heartbreaking. You struggle with it all your life. I still do.”

Many experts believe change must start at home. “We really need to get parents on board with adopting healthier lifestyles. Parents are truly the role models.”

Olivia is not alone in her battle. She has three sisters and one brother to help her make the right choices. “We would always talk about it at dinner time, about the portions, about not having seconds, but it’s so hard, and they just sort of think it’s just Mom being mean,” says Jane, Olivia’s mother.

Olivia uses the 5/10 rule. She checks nutrition labels to make sure she’s eating fewer than five grams of fat and less than ten grams of sugar. “I don’t eat those cookies now, and I don’t eat the potato chips,” Olivia says.

Studies show that families who eat together have a more nutritious diet. They plan meals with more fruits and vegetables, and they drink less soda. Experts say portion size is also important, and they advise against forcing children to clean their plate. They also recommend staying active.

“I hope to be skinnier,” Johnson says.

“I want to see my friends look at me like another girl, not like how my weight looks,” Kristen says.

“Instead of all my clothes being small, now they’re big,” says Olivia.

A move in the right direction at school and at home.

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