No Simple Solution to Combating Childhood Obesity
The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), an organization within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published a new nutrition guide in 2011 to replace the existing food pyramid. The new guide, MyPlate, depicts a place setting divided into five food groups. This new diagram is prominently displayed on food packaging and used as the educational nutrition model in the United States.
On the surface, the metaphor for putting healthy foods on your plate, cup and bowl seems simple to understand. But what happens if you’ve never heard of foods among those recommended in each food group? This image looks like a foreign language and loses its relevancy. The MyPlate guidelines unintentionally treat Americans as a homogenous group, but context matters when applying them in the real world.
In 2008, the foundation partnered with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, to develop the Be Well book series.
Over ten months, the foundation traveled the country meeting parents of children of all ages to hear stories about how they were adopting healthier habits for the families. Their stories, narrated by Susan Dell, were published as two books, “Be Well: Messages from Moms on Living Healthier Lives”, published in 2009, and “A Year of Being Well: Messages from Families on Living Healthier Lives”, published in 2012. These books share 13 easy-to-follow action steps to help families adopt healthier habits. In total, more than 2 million books have been distributed for free across all 50 states.
One of the moms featured in the book is Andrea Toledo Leyva, a mother from Tucson, AZ, whose recipes are entrenched in her rich Mexican heritage. Many beloved family favorites were high in fat and made with lard: refried beans, tamales and tortillas. Andrea came to the realization that her large family’s traditional unhealthy foods were having a negative effect on her family’s health, so she set out to learn more about healthier ways to prepare recipes they all loved.
MyPlate could have been a resource for her—a simple reference guide to help her develop healthier food options. But when she looked at the list of vegetables, she had never heard of some them: bok choy, kale or watercress. When she scanned the grains, among them were bulgur and de-germed cornmeal. And, in the oil food group, she didn’t recognize names such as cottonseed oil or safflower oil. As an experienced cook, if Andrea hadn’t heard of these, could she expect them to be available in her neighborhood market? The MyPlate guidelines weren’t useful for Andrea. Instead of feeling empowered by the resource, she instead felt confused and frustrated.
Andrea was on a mission to change the trajectory of her family’s health, so she researched and experimented and found ways to use healthier alternatives in her recipes while maintaining the flavor of her family’s traditional dishes. She was able to keep traditions alive while actively protecting the health of her family.
Andrea’s story is a powerful one that proves that what might seem simple and reasonable on the surface could be just the opposite. Our society is a melting pot of people with different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities – all of which need to be considered when we look for ways to solve problems. People are where they are, and we must find ways to meet them there. Understanding their personal context is the first step.
- FREE BOOK: A Year of Being Well
- VIDEOS: Be Well: Steps to Live Healthier Lives
- BLOG POST: First person: Diabetes diagnosis motivates a mom to fight childhood obesity risks at home
- BLOG POST: First person: One family’s “no fry zone”
- BLOG POST: Sleep and obesity prevention are linked. Two moms offer tips to improve sleep quality
- BLOG POST: First person: A Harrisburg, PA mom turns off screens and gets moving to fight childhood obesity
- BLOG POST: First person: One mom’s key to childhood obesity prevention—a daily run with the boys
- BLOG POST: First person: Navigating Oakland’s food desert to fight the threat of childhood obesity
- BLOG POST: First person: An Austin, TX mom taps community resources to keep her kids active
- BLOG POST: First person: Fuel for performance and train for life
- BLOG POST: A Year of Being Well: Real families help others take the small steps that lead to big changes
- BLOG POST: Schools: Just one battlefront in the war on childhood obesity
- BLOG POST: Halloween helper: Simple tricks to blunt the impact of so many treats
- PRESS RELEASE: New Book Features Families’ Creative Ways to Fight Childhood Obesity in Their Homes and Communities, One Month at a Time
- PRESS RELEASE: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Alliance for a Healthier Generation Release Book Showcasing Moms’ Creative Ways to Fight Childhood Obesity in their Homes, Communities
- PRESS RELEASE: “Be Well” Book Launches National Movement to Help Moms Instill Healthy Habits and End Childhood Obesity