Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Ministry teams up with group to teach kids healthy habits

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Dozens of overweight and underweight children participated in a “healthy weight camp” last week, learning good habits to keep their weight within a healthy range.

In an effort to encourage children to break unhealthy habits such as over-eating and avoiding exercise after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, the Ministry of Education and the John Tung Foundation teamed up to hold a two-day camp for overweight and underweight children.

Of the 56 children from grades three through six who attended the camp, half were underweight and half overweight.

The underweight children were on average 30 percent below their target weight and were mostly girls, while the overweight children were mostly boys and usually an only child or the youngest child in the family, said Sheu Hui-yu (許惠玉), head of the foundation’s Food and Nutrition Division.

Regardless of whether they were overweight or underweight, most children at the camp regularly consumed too much sugar in the unhealthy beverages they drink.

“The children say they like to drink milk tea, black tea and soft drinks. Some even drink [these] twice a day and drink sugared beverages instead of water when thirsty,” Sheu said.

At the camp, children learned how much sugar those drinks contain. Kids were asked to add sugar to a cup of black tea until it tasted as sweet as what they normally drank.

In another activity, the children did a hands-on experiment to make several types of artificially flavored drinks, while learning that “fake juice” can be produced from powders and be of little nutritional value.

Children also learned how much grease is in fast foods and other junk food by using absorbant tissues to blot foods they regularly eat, such as cookies, French fries and potato chips.

Some children cried “disgusting” and “so fatty” when they saw the tissues rapidly turn transparent with the oils from the foods.

The overweight children were warned about the difficulties they would face should they continue to gain weight by being made to carry heavy sacks of water to simulate the extra burden on the body.

They learned what it takes to burn calories by running with a counter to see how long it would take to be rid of the calories in foods that they often eat.

But Sheu said the problem was not just weight. Many children are not only eating foods they shouldn’t be eating, but are not getting the nutrition they need, such as fiber.

“Some children immediately turn down veggies as soon as they see them,” she said.

To encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables, the students learned how to make fruit and yogurt smoothies with high fiber content.

Because the camp only lasted two days, Sheu said parents should help their children keep up the habits they had learned at home by taking them to shop for groceries and letting them help prepare meals.

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