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Kids Crunch Their Way to Health with New Initiative

The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County is piloting a new program in two elementary schools.

The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll is encouraging kids to "crunch" their way to healthier eating. The new "It’s Crunch Time!" initiative, debuting in two elementary schools this month, aims to instill healthy eating habits in Carroll County children. 

Statistics show the obesity problem continues to grow in the United States, especially in younger populations. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that as of 2004, 13.9 percent of 2- to5-year-olds were obese and 18.8 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds were obese. 

The reasons for It’s Crunch Time! are twofold, according to a news release. The Partnership’s research shows that 97 percent of Carroll County families eat fast food four times per week. Nearly 21 percent of Carroll County kids drink one can or more of soda per day; and only 23 percent of Carroll County kids and 32 percent of adults eat enough fruits and vegetables per day. This shows that nutritious foods are taking a backseat in Carroll County, and diets lacking them are contributing to the obesity problem, the news release states. 

"The purpose behind It’s Crunch Time! is to effect real change in obesity in our children. We want them to understand the value of eating healthy, forming good habits and creating real change," Erica Zamensky, The Partnership’s L.E.A.N. Carroll coordinator, told Patch in an interview.

It’s Crunch Time! focuses on four main areas in accordance with the new USDA guidelines for healthy eating. The program highlights reducing unhealthy fast foods and sugar-sweetened drinks while increasing servings of fruits and vegetables. 

The program involves engaging children in the process of understanding and making healthy choices when it comes to eating and living healthy. Zamensky said the program ties in with what the children are being taught in the classrooms, as well as the schools' commitment to providing healthy lunches. 

"This marries well with the curriculum and with the efforts the schools are making to provide healthy lunches. We intend to take this program as far as it can go," Zamensky said. 

The program is funded by a $143,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente. Dot Fox of the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County explained that it's a three-part grant; the organization is expecting to be awarded part two of the grant soon. Part two involves further promoting the Farm to School Program and using local produce in schools. 

"This all ties into making healthy choices," Zamensky said. "Schools are committed to putting fruits and vegetables in the schools. We want parents to make the same commitment at home." 

In early April kids at Parr's Ridge Elementary and Mt. Airy Elementary Schools were given packets that include a three-panel fold-out poster. One side contains bright colors, illustrations, healthy eating tips and directions to join the "It’s Crunch Time!" initiative. The other side of the poster is a chart covering two months' time, during which kids are supposed to work with their parents to make goals (e.g. I will add __ servings of fruit to my diet each day) and then track their successes (or failures) daily.

To be a part of the program, which costs nothing, parents are asked to go to www.healthycarroll.org and complete a three-minute pre-pledge survey. After two months of tracking goals, participants are asked to log back in and complete a post-pledge survey. 

"We are piloting the program in two schools. It's a new program so we want to give it a run and work the kinks out before we go more wide spread," Zamensky said. "We are focusing on elementary schools because that is when eating habits are formed." 

The good news is that any Carroll County families can participate in the program by completing the surveys and tracking goals, even if the children don't attend the pilot schools. 

"As long as you live in Carroll County, we're happy to have your data," Zamensky said. "In the end, we want to have enough data to analyze and rely on." 

"Children spend so much time at school—we are hoping to affect a real lifestyle change by creating a format for that change," Zamensky said. 

Visit www.healthycarroll.org to see the materials handed out to children and to complete the survey. 

Lisa Breslin April 12, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Kym - This is a good piece -- ANY chance Zamensky would want to fold into the summer program during Week One by providing packets? Talk about an audience that would benefit from this initiative - AND who could go back home as ambassadors for Crunch message(s). Let me know. Lisa
Steve Byrnes April 13, 2011 at 11:36 AM
Important article~ Clearly families are not considering healthy eating nearly enough and any initiatives that get them thinking is great!

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