Friday, July 15, 2011

Kids’ LiveWell: Healthier Options for Children at Restaurant Chains

In the past ten years, obesity rates have doubled in the United States. According to the New York City Department of Health, New Yorkers are also piling on the pounds, and quickly. More than half of all adult New Yorkers are overweight or obese and their children aren’t faring much better. Today, nearly half of the kids in NYC are not at a healthy weight and 1 in 5 kindergarteners is obese.

Spurred by these high numbers and the government’s commitment to reduce childhood obesity, community groups, non-profits, and government agencies are combating this epidemic by promoting healthier food in classrooms, teaching nutrition to parents and children, advocating for safe spaces for physical activity, and increasing the availability of healthy food options in low-income areas. Now, chain restaurants are getting in on the action.

This week, the National Restaurant Association introduced a voluntary initiative called Kids’ LiveWell to promote a selection of healthy menu choices for children at chain restaurants around the country. The inaugural group of 19 restaurants includes big names like Burger King, Friendly’s, and Chili’s, though other popular fast food outlets like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s have not signed on. The nutrition criteria specifies that each Full Kids’ Meal, which includes one entrée, a side order, and a beverage, would be under 600 calories, contain less than 35% total fat, and have at least two sources of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, or low-fat diary.

With more than 15,000 restaurants participating in the launch of the program, Kids’ LiveWell has the potential to reach a great number of kids at America’s popular eateries. In order for its impact to be felt, however, parents and caregivers need to promote healthy options when dining out and teach their children the benefits of healthy eating. As the number of children at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension continues to increase rapidly, fast food chains and restaurants must take responsibility and accelerate their efforts to halt and reverse childhood obesity. Kids’ LiveWell is a good first step in a long road.

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