Kids Learn to 'Red Light' Bad Food On a non-stop circuit of birthday parties, sports events, holidays, and grandma's special treats, kids often find themselves bombarded with unhealthy food. A weight-control program in Stanford, Calif., has come up with a "traffic-light" system to help kids make better choices about what to eat and when.
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Kids Learn to 'Red Light' Bad Food

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Kids Learn to 'Red Light' Bad Food

Kids Learn to 'Red Light' Bad Food

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

In Your Health today, obesity and kids. We will examine just how fat a baby can be and still be healthy. First, we'll visit a successful weight-control program in Stanford, California, that helps significantly overweight children. Kids as young as eight understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, and they learn how to change their lifestyles.

Here's NPR's Patricia Neighmond.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND: The first step in this program is a promise: both parents and kids literally sign a contract promising to come every week for six months to an hour and a half learning session. Cindy Zedeck is an education specialist, who runs the program at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford.

Ms. CINDY ZEDECK (Education Specialist, Lucille Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford): A child has to verbally be able to explain that they want to do this, that they're doing it for themselves, that they're not doing it because they felt pressure from their parent. That's a big part of the program, because if they feel any pressure or they're not really clear on why they are personally there, it won't be as successful.

NEIGHMOND: With so many choices of high fat, high-calorie foods in so many places - birthday parties, sports events - Zedeck says it's tough for kids to make healthy choices. So the program begins by helping kids understand that not all foods are alike.

Ms. HANNAH RILEY: Red's stop. Yellow's caution. Green's go for it.

NEIGHMOND: Hannah Riley lost 14 pounds, quite a bit for a 9-year-old. Like everyone in the program, she and her mother, Julie Wheeler, received a traffic light food guide.

Ms. RILEY: And red foods are candy, maybe potato chips, soda, a lot of things. Yellow foods is caution.

NEIGHMOND: Fruits are yellow, so is meat and fish. And green? That's vegetables. Pediatrician Thomas Robinson directs the Center for Healthy Weight at the Children's Hospital. Recently, he moved certain foods from cautious yellow to stoplight red.

Dr. THOMAS ROBINSON (Pediatrician, Center for Healthy Weight at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford): There're foods that kids eat a lot of, eat large portions of, and tend to be exposed to a lot and are very popular. So for example, if - even though if a cheese pizza might fit in a yellow category based on just its pure nutritional content in terms of calories or fat per gram or energy density, we would find that kids would say well, that's wonderful that pizza is a yellow because that's our favorite food and we'll eat as much as we want of it.

NEIGHMOND: Kids also sign contracts promising to reduce the number of red foods they eat to help them really understand how bad high fat, high-calorie foods can be. There are simple visuals: tubes of sugar, a full 12 ounces, showing how much sugar is in one can of soda - Crisco, to symbolize fat in foods.

Ms. ZEDECK: Remember that day that they brought in like the fat?

Ms. RILEY: Real fat.

Ms. ZEDECK: Real fat.

Ms. RILEY: Like, fat in these two glass containers, they pretended to be organs in your blood vessel.

Ms. ZEDECK: (Unintelligible) like the straw, and it clogging your arteries?

(Soundbite of blender)

NEIGHMOND: Everyday after school, Hannah concocts a smoothie, shuffling through the refrigerator to choose from a variety of healthy fruits.

Ms. RILEY: Blackberries, berries, strawberries, banana, pears. Apples, peaches, blueberries. Did I already say blueberries? I think I did.

NEIGHMOND: It didn't used to be like this. There used to be lots of red lights in Hannah's house - chips, cookies, ice cream. Hannah says she doesn't miss those foods - probably because she likes the weight loss better than the red lights.

Ms. RILEY: To me, I just see the human body and my brain and something, and I see fat. And that reminds me to not eat that much red lights, or not even eat some.

NEIGHMOND: As Hannah was meeting her goals to decrease red-light foods, she was also meeting new program goals to get active and exercise.

Unidentified Child #1: Back up.

Unidentified Child #2: Back up, Madeleine.

Unidentified Child #1: Back up, back up (unintelligible).

Unidentified Child #3: Back, back, back...

Ms. RILEY: I think my body likes exercising more. Like, I can't wait till recess or lunch so I can go run or something, go play with my friends. I like the playground, and I like the slider and the monkey bars.

Ms. ZEDECK: That's one thing that you weren't able to do. Remember, you couldn't do the monkey bars for the longest time because you couldn't lift your own weight?

NEIGHMOND: Toward the end of the program, kids begin to document their sitting habits. How much computer time and TV watching they do. Today, both Julie and Hannah say they've really cut down on TV. And seeing Hannah now, you'd never think she had a weight problem. She's a healthy, active, dancing, soccer-playing kid with an after-school ritual.

Ms. WHEELER: Did you get enough to eat?

Ms. RILEY: Yeah.

Ms. WHEELER: Did you get some protein in there?

Ms. RILEY: Yep.

Ms. WHEELER: Can you run on the field?

Ms. RILEY: What?

Ms. WHEELER: Can you run and jump high on the field?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Can you kick the ball hard?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Yeah. You're good.

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Got a water bottle?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Did you put sunscreen on your face this morning?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Did you make healthy choices?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

Ms. WHEELER: Do you love me?

Ms. RILEY: Yes.

NEIGHMOND: This program at Packard is highly successful. Eighty percent of the kids stick with it for six months and lose weight. In most weigh control programs, only about half of those who start out actually finish.

Patricia Neighmond, NPR News.

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