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Healthy Living: Time to Listen To Our Kids

Natural chef and holistic nutrition expert Patty James launches Direction Five to teach kids about living healthier lives

As parents, educators and anyone involved with kids, most of us feel that we know what is best for kids, and many times that's true. After all, kids don't have the life experience that adults do.  But kids are often times more intuitive than adults, and what they think is best for them often times is. It's time we truly listened to what they have to say about living healthier lives, says chef and holistic nutrition expert, Patty James.

To get kids' take on health, nutrition, and exercise, James, author of More Vegetables, Please!, and founder of the new non-profit, Direction Five Health, traveled to 41 states in 2010 to conduct videotape interviews of kids from all walks of life.  

Eighteen thousand miles later, James returned to California, where researchers at Sonoma State University crunched the numbers and generated an 89-page report based on the kids' answers to a twenty-five question survey about health, food, and exercise, which James then used to design five new kids' health programs.Chicken and salad

Survey highlights

The survey results were both surprising and reassuring:

  • 29.8% of the kids thought they knew whether a food was healthy from the ingredients, while 34.5% looked at the kind of food to determine whether it was healthy (vegetables were almost always seen as healthy, for example)
  • Two-thirds knew how to read a nutrition label, one in three did not know how.  Nearly three in four (73.1%) wanted to learn more about food labels, with more than eight in ten (81.8%) saying they would be healthier if they really understood food labels.
  • While three-quarters (76.3%) said they had eaten a vegetable the previous day, one quarter admitted to not having had any vegetables.  The bottom line: "The vast majority of kids did not come close to consuming enough vegetables," said James.
  • Four in ten (42.4%) said fruit was the food that gave the best energy, with an apple being by far the first choice.
  • Three-quarters of the kids said they knew how to cook, but eighty-five percent wanted to learn how to cook more things.
  • Nine in ten (90.7%) claimed they exercised, with nearly half (45.3%) saying they exercised every day.
  • The vast majority of kids (92%) thought Physical Education (PE) should be mandatory (again, it seems kids know intuitively how important exercise and a healthy body is for a healthy mind and overall health).
  • Six in ten kids (59%) said they or their family had raised some of their own food.
  • More than eight in ten kids thought they would be healthier if they understood more about how their bodies worked.

Takeaway points

  • Kids know more than we think: "We found that most kids truly wanted adults not to presume that they wanted junk food; that they didn't want to be unhealthy," James said. 
  • Earn your kids trust. "We found that kids perhaps put too much trust in their parents to buy healthy foods; in other words, that if their mom bought it, it must be healthy," noted James.  "They wanted salad bars, not junk food. It's up to parents, in the kitchen and in the grocery store, to make healthy food choices for their kids."
  • Take the time to explain food labels. "Better yet," recommended James, "parents should try to buy food without labels such as natural and unprocessed food, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables."  One of her suggestions: support your local farmer's market and buy fruits and vegetables that are in season.  Including more fruits and vegetables in the family diet, is "easier than you think," James says.
  • Involve kids in meal preparation.  Leave time in the day to prepare dinner together as a family and to eat it together, without no electronics at the table and plenty of time to ask questions about each other's day.
  • Don't overschedule. Kids need time for free, unstructured play, James emphasized. It is "important for parents not to have them so busy."

Direction Five Health

Based on what kids in her survey said they wanted and needed to learn in order to lead healthier lives, James and her non-profit, Direction Five Health, developed five pilot kids' health programs for roll-out in the summer of 2011   The free courses, underwritten by donations and grants, will be for groups of ten to twelve kids, and will focus on five areas: healthy basics, body/earth, body/mind, fitness, and cooking: 

  1. Direction One: The Foundation of Health (understanding how the body works and how choices made today affect health today and in  the future)
  2. Direction Two: The Body and Mind Connection (how our thoughts and feelings affect our physical bodies and vice versa)
  3. Direction Three: The Body and Earth Connection (learning about how food choices affect the planet)
  4. Direction Four: Fitness (what happens in your body when you exercise and how the body is affected by not exercising)
  5. Direction Five: Culinary (healthy kitchens, healthy lives as a mantra).
    DirectionFive was built From the Kids Up and will remain so. We will continually speak with kids about what they want and need to learn about their health so as to lead healthier, happier lives.

"Our vision," James says, "is to have as many kids as possible attend the Direction Five program, and we will work with kids, families and communities to ensure this happens."

For more information on Direction Five, contact info@directionfive.org .

Posted May 10, 2011