Good Health for African American Kids (cont.)

Moderator: {question presented} If so, how can parents be sure their children will get enough calcium for growth?

Dixon: First of all, while calcium is a good issue we're looking at, there really are a number of foods that are high in calcium other than dairy products, particularly for African-American kids who have a problem with lactose intolerance. Green, leafy vegetables... calcium fortified foods are the greatest thing that happened to our diet. Calcium- fortified orange juice, soy milks (for parents whose children can't drink regular milk), cereals, nuts (which can be used in many ways.. in vegetables, casseroles, and they're high in protein as well)... and some meats do have calcium as well.

Moderator: {question presented} Is obesity a health issue for African American children as in their adult counterparts?

Dixon: Absolutely; obesity is becoming a major issue in African-American children and adults... if I could just digress to tell you about obesity in general in this country -- in less than 20 years, from 1963 to 1980, the percentage of obesity rose to 54% amongst 6 to 11 year olds, and increased by 39% among 12-17 year olds. Today, the surveys estimate that 1 in 5 children is obese... it also estimated that 40% of obese children and 70% of obese adolescents will also become obese adults.

Dixon: In the Bogalusa heart study, which is a current study involving African-American children, girls as early as the age of 9 are found to be obese. I think that there are several factors that parents need to be concerned about; that's the fact that children aren't getting enough physical activity, spending too many hours in front of the TV or computer, as well as taking in a diet that's high in fat and calories.

Dixon: Parents should assist their children in overcoming obesity early on by involving the whole family.

Moderator: Is obesity an issue for children because the standard for beauty and the female norm is much heavier than in the Caucasian population?

Dixon: I don't really that is as much as a factor in childhood as it is in adulthood. The fact that we have obesity occurring at a younger age in African-American children, particularly girls, is because of those environmental reasons. Once African-American men and women approach adulthood, I agree with you -- the whole idea of overweight being distasteful, is not viewed the same as in white America. I believe that cultural influences there are very strong. There is not the stigma attached to being overweight, but it's not only common in African-Americans ... it's very common in people of color throughout the world. If you go to Central America, or Africa, or the Caribbean ... you will find that people of color view being overweight as a sign of prosperity. It has filtered down through the generations, and still seen as "being healthy" rather than being a negative with regards to physical beauty. We don't think it's any big deal to look like a twiggy, or a fashion model, although I will admit that young people today really are beginning to have a backlash of that because they're also seeing black models who are thinner... and as we see more black models, who are role models, who are thinner. It might be interesting what that influence will be over the years.

Dixon: It is very difficult for me to counsel African-American women; and its because of what you just said... there is less peer pressure to be thin, and yet we have an array of health problems that really are important for us to take a look at the issue of obesity as a risk factor. Often, obesity isn't in African-American males as it is in females. If you have a African-American female in my office for counseling, she needs to lose 50 pounds, she loses the first 10 pounds, and her partner tells her that she lost too much... because their standard is that they like the thighs with some meat on them. Its very difficult for the black woman today to want to be healthy and be of that weight, because she has several issues to be concerned about. Socially, she wants to fit in, and health-wise her doctor is telling her something else. No longer are those hips and body parts that made you look fine, is the norm. You must consider your overall health; that's the large dilemma in our population. Also, let's face it... the eating habits of the parents directly influence the eating habits of children... so these parents particularly mothers who plan the meal and where its going to be taken, she's overweight and you have a vicious cycle of a child who's overweight due to environmental conditions.

Moderator: {question presented} What are your recommendations for parents who have children who are "picky" eaters?

Dixon: I have several -- don't be a nag, first. The second is, make an agreement with your children about foods that they like as well as food that they might not like. Third, introduce them to new foods gradually; prepare them in a different manner until you can find one they enjoy. Fourth, set an example... don't expect them to eat foods that you won't eat. Finally, be patient for food-jags, which are common in children, is temporary. Every child is very different, some children aren't picky in childhood but as they become teenagers, they become picky... but the more parents nag their child about what they're eating, the more difficult it is for the child to change their behavior. You also have to make an agreement to have them understand that eating a certain way all the time isn't healthy. Getting them to agree with you that if you allow them to eat foods they like, but that if they eat foods that are good for them, too, because you're concerned about growth and health, children will work on that agreement with you. Introduce foods gradually -- the problem with children becoming picky is that parents often introduce too many foods at the same time. Sometimes, parents cook a certain food a certain way, and the children may not like it prepared that way, but may like it another way. I didn't like beets because they tasted yucky, cooked. So I avoided them all my life. But when I became older, I started eating them in salads, and it tasted totally different. The most important thing of all is that parents need to set a good example, and even if the pickiest child sees you enjoying foods, they may be more apt to try them.