Good Health for African American Kids (cont.)

Moderator: {question presented} Adolescents/teens are often accused of eating a lot of "junk foods"... how can we encourage them to eat healthy?

Dixon: It's true. But I find that adolescents tend to eat foods that are fun. They like the real cool foods, they tend to be driven to eat foods that their peers eat. Also, for teens, atmosphere is everything; restaurants that are an attractive place for them to meet their friends, that have foods that taste good, inexpensive, and are filling... I certainly think are the reasons kids eat the foods they do. My suggestions are, first plan at least one meal a day at home with your adolescent... get back to the old idea of family eating together. Make mealtimes fun; make it a happy time. No arguments or no scolding during that mealtime. Then your adolescent will look forward to it. Have your teen help you shop and prepare the food; in fact, plan a menu, and have them help you with a special menu. Keep healthy snack foods in the house; if healthy foods are in the house, and they're in sight, they're in mind. Drop the word "junk" food... remember three things -- balance, variety, and moderation. Suggest and teach your children and adolescents that its important to eat all foods that are... in the food pyramid -- keep the diet balanced and not just one group of foods versus another. Variety is a theme there; colors, textures, and flavors. The total amount they eat is often not what they think they need -- the reason why they eat is not because they're hungry. Help them identify their hunger or non-hunger response, and how that works with the diet being moderate in amounts. Moderation is very important to remember. Finally, as with younger children who are picky eaters... you need to set an example in your own diet. If you eat the junk foods that you're accusing your children of eating, they're going to say "well, if you can eat that why can't I?" So it's okay to criticize their diet, just make sure you're not guilty of the same. Also remember that all foods can fit into a healthy diet; there isn't such a thing as "junk foods"... there are foods that may not have nutritional value, but that's okay too. As long as the majority of your diet is made up of healthy foods.

Moderator: {question presented} What can parents do to assist their children in weight management?

Dixon: You've heard me say over and over about the importance of family, or a parent working with their children. The first thing is developing a family exercise or physical activity program; join the Y together. If you isolate a child in an activity, they'll be less excited about doing it. Change dietary habits together; this may take seeking the counsel of a registered dietician, nutritionist... one who can look at the overall family's way of eating, and can make recommendations for the entire family. And then finally, there must be time set aside, or time that's restricted in some ways for TV and computers, and more time for activity. Often parents do not limit the amount of time that a child spends watching TV or on their computer, and I always tell them to let them know that three hours an evening is all they should spend doing that, and then work on hour on physical activity. Offer your child a more structured way of life, rather than allowing them just to have endless amounts of hours and sit down, couch potatoin'.

Moderator: {question presented} What is a healthy diet for children?

Dixon: Most people are familiar with the food guide pyramid, and just recently, one was developed for children. For 2 - 6 year olds... and we'll start with the base of the pyramid... From the breads and cereals and starches, they should have 6 servings a day. For older, it can be from 6-11. For vegetables on the next level, they should have 3 servings a day, and that would include fruits (2 servings), milk or dairy (2 servings), meat (2 servings), and less often would be the fats, at the top of the pyramid -- a variety of foods from different food groups, with more being concentrated on the vegetable and grain groups.

Moderator: {question presented} What changes would you like to see in the way health organizations, corporate America adopt to encourage disease prevention and awareness among African Americans?

Dixon: I think the most important thing that corporate America can do is provide educational information about disease and health issues that affect our population. Example, particularly with food companies.. there are certainly a development of brochures and promotions of certain foods... there should be brochures with people of color. The first thing that needs to happen is that pamphlets and booklets need to be multi-cultural. If you're going to write about hypertension or diabetes, and you're going to write a general brochure... but obviously general material is not filtering down to African-Americans. Having African-Americans pictures on a brochure, talking about the disease incidence in this population, giving them suggestions within their cultural and social influences, giving them suggestions in which we would make decisions based upon how we'd react to each other socially, and thinking about genetics... I think it's important! The second thing is funding for research regarding health issues that affect this population. For every disease or health problem we see today, there's research that goes into that particular area, but I'd venture to say that within the last 20 years, there has not been a lot of research regarding African-American issues ... as some of the key health care professionals who are African-American who are in places of making decisions regarding research. Finally, when I think about African-American health care professionals, there need to be more of us. There need to be more African-American health care providers. Our population is... more African-American are apt to see a non-African-American health care provider than they are African-American. I think it's obvious that we know our people just as Asians and Hispanics understand their culture, better than someone of another culture. Finally, that companies and corporations spend money to help us all, particularly health educators, be more culturally sensitive. This must be carried through medical schools, in our nutritional training, across the board. We're all Americans, but we do have differences. In African-Americans, our mortality rates are far worse than white-Americans.