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VOL. 127 | NO. 238 | Thursday, December 06, 2012

Label Watchers

Area groups promote food label awareness

By MICHAEL WADDELL

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Two organizations are combating the area’s obesity crisis and promoting healthier lifestyles by placing an emphasis on food label education.

Students from Crump Elementary School study labels while taking a class on nutrition called “Learning Labels” at Memphis Pink Palace Museum. The class is sponsored by Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. has partnered with Memphis Pink Palace Museum to create a new interactive lab session called “Learning Labels” that teaches kids about how to read serving sizes on food and beverage labels. Raising nutritional awareness is not only being targeted toward children in the Mid-South. Leadership Memphis recently became a participant in the Healthy Memphis Common Table’s Million Calorie Reduction Match project, and guests at the organization’s recent holiday party at the Mercedes-Benz of Memphis Showroom were provided with nutritional information about the evening’s food, which was catered by several area restaurants.

The target audience for the new Pink Palace lab session is fourth and fifth graders.

“What we want to do is provide them with information to make healthy choices,” said Alex Eilers, program director at the Pink Palace. “I’ve been amazed at how receptive the students are. The earlier that we can get the attention of the students in an interactive, fun and engaging way, I think the better off they will be.”

The hour-long program takes a standard food label found on any package or bottle and breaks it down into five parts: serving size, calories, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Each section is explained and emphasized with hands-on activities, including measuring out serving sizes, running in place for 20 to 25 seconds in order to burn three calories, making colorful beaded bracelets to represent the formation of amino acids, and identifying categories of carbs, fats and proteins.

Baptist has funded the Pink Palace project for a total of 25 classes, and 15 classes have been completed up to this point. Earlier this week the museum hosted children from Crump Elementary, and other elementary schools to take part in the program recently includes Idlewild, Brewster and Kingsbury.

The program could become a permanent lab when the museum renovates its master plan during the next few years.

“We are planning a new Life Science area, and much of it will focus on health, wellness and nutrition,” Eilers said. “Right now, we are in the beginning stages of getting our programming ready for the new exhibits.”

Alex Eilers, manager of education for Memphis Pink Palace Museum, teaches a class on nutrition called “Learning Labels” to fifth-grade students.

Obesity and the health problems associated with being overweight are increasing among Memphis children at startling rates. Fifty percent of children younger than 11 are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, and by the time they reach high school, 17 percent will be considered obese, according to research from the Urban Child Institute.

“The obesity rates of our kids are slowly declining, so that indicates that parents are concerned about the well-being of their kids and they want to have healthier choices for them. We want to be able to help them with that,” said Cynthia Allen, Baptist Operation Outreach community relations manager. “It’s a shared community responsibility. If our kids are unhealthy, it impacts how they perform in school and it impacts their ability to become the future leaders of the community.”

Allen explained that Baptist’s program at the Pink Palace could evolve next year to focus more on portion control, and she also hopes to develop a toolkit for teachers to use to make the nutrition-based presentations at their schools.

Adults are being targeted for food label education as part of the citywide efforts of Healthy Memphis Common Table and its partners. Guests at the Leadership Memphis holiday party this week were able to make more informed food selections by viewing the caloric value of each item being served. The menu featured delectables from Stickem Food Truck, Fuel Food Truck, Rock ‘n’ Dough Pizza Co. and Yolo Bakery.

Leaders attending the party had the opportunity to gain insight into the Million Calorie Reduction Match project and how they can join in the fight to reduce obesity in Shelby County.

“The idea is to educate people about the caloric value of the food that they eat,” said project manager Connie Binkowitz.

The goal of the project is to change how people view food, food intake, and exercise while slowly incorporating a culture of healthy eating and active living. Million Calorie Reduction Match project staff hopes to assist organizations and employers in developing, adopting and implementing policies to encourage a reduced caloric intake and increased physical activity.

The obesity rate in Shelby County is nearly 33 percent, compared to a national average of 27 percent, and Tennessee ranks as the second-most inactive state, according to a recent report from the Tennessee Obesity Taskforce.

Some of the ways that the project is impacting obesity is by serving healthier meals or smaller portions at meetings and other gatherings, stocking vending machines with low-calorie snacks and low/zero calorie drinks and encouraging exercise.

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