Field Notes

Healthy Food Tips for Back-to-School Success

“Back to school” means getting back into a routine that helps students achieve success in the new school year. Research has shown that good nutrition, improved hydration, and proper sleep play significant roles in children’s academic success.

Mary Pat Turon-Findley, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian in the division of nutrition therapy at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says multiple studies have shown that poor nutrition adversely affects school performance and overall achievement.

Because nutrition habits and food choices can change during the summer months, parents should start to prepare before the school year begins. Parents are encouraged to reboot good eating, hydration, and sleep habits at least one week before school starts.

Turon-Findley says the best way parents can help their children nutritionally is by making sure they have a healthful morning meal. Even though the meal is called “breakfast,” it doesn’t mean only breakfast foods must be eaten. The goal is to have your child eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as high-fiber grains, fruits, and dairy, or dairy substitute products. Not only is it important to eat breakfast every day, but parents also should consider the quality of the foods offered at breakfast. Healthful breakfast ideas include the following:

  • fiber-rich and whole-grain cereals with low-fat milk;
  • yogurt and berries with low-fat granola;
  • whole wheat toast, eggs, and fresh fruit;
  • whole wheat bagels and cheese or eggs with low-fat milk;
  • peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat milk;
  • grilled cheese sandwich with 100% fruit juice; and
  • whole-wheat waffles or pancakes with fruit and low-fat milk.

Turon-Findley says parents need to make sure their children have a healthful lunch, too. Many studies have shown that children who eat healthful, balanced breakfasts and lunches are more alert throughout the day and earn better grades than those who don’t eat healthfully. Eating a balanced lunch also improves a child’s ability to concentrate in afternoon subjects and decreases their chances of overeating and making unhealthful choices after school. Many children don’t drink enough water and should be encouraged to have water along with meals and snacks. Turon-Findley gives the following tips to parents on how to ensure healthful nutrition for their children:

Use myplate.gov. Follow the guidelines by making one-half of the lunch fruits and vegetables, and at least one-half of any grains whole grain. Remember to go easy on fats and sweets and always include a lean source of protein and low-fat dairy.

Include variety to avoid pickiness. Beat boredom with different foods. Instead of regular bread every day, make sandwiches using pitas, bagels, English muffins, crackers, or tortillas. Include a variety of colors each day to make the food more appealing to the eye. Children may be more willing to eat foods of their favorite colors, shapes, or sizes.

Ask the kids to get involved. Discuss healthful food options with them and how they can take responsibility for packing their own lunch. Set a family goal to shop on the weekends and complete prep work with fruits and vegetables. Meal planning and preparation is a great way to get kids involved and educated about why nutritious meals are so important.

Make it easy. Pack easy-to-eat fruit, such as grapes, apple wedges, strawberries, or chunks of melon. Include a dipping sauce made of yogurt or peanut butter to make this healthful meal fun and easy.

Be careful about what children drink. Even 100% juice is loaded with sugar. Encourage children to drink low-fat milk, water, or sugar-free flavored water. Children should avoid drinks containing added supplements like herbs and caffeine. When you’re out school shopping, offer to buy your children a special water bottle that will motivate them to choose more nutritious beverages.

Consider school lunch. Even if you decide to pack a lunch for your child, the school lunch program can be a great supplement to food brought from home. For example, buying a cheese stick and milk at school ensures a lower risk of spoilage than these items brought from home in a lunch bag. Check the menus from your child’s school to learn what’s being served for lunch.

Plan for the kids’ activities. Pack plenty of fluids and easy-to-eat snacks for kids who have sports or other activities after school. Performance is improved and injuries are reduced in children who have proper nutrition and hydration.

— Source: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center


Exercise Alone Doesn’t Help in Losing Weight

Physical activity has many health benefits, ranging from reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer to improving mental health and mood.

But contrary to common belief, exercise doesn’t necessarily aid in weight loss, according to public health scientists Richard S. Cooper, MD, and Amy Luke, PhD. Cooper is a professor and chair and, Luke is a professor and vice chair of the department of public health sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

“Physical activity is crucially important for improving overall health and fitness levels, but there’s limited evidence to suggest that it can blunt the surge in obesity,” Luke and Cooper wrote in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Cooper and Luke have been studying the link between physical activity and obesity for years. When they started their research, they assumed that physical activity would prove key to losing weight. But the preponderance of evidence has shown that assumption to be wrong. Physical activity increases appetite and, consequently, calorie consumption. So, with or without increasing physical activity, calorie control remains the key to either losing or maintaining weight.

“This crucial part of the public health message isn’t appreciated in recommendations to be more active, walk up stairs, and eat more fruits and vegetables,” Cooper and Luke said. “The prescription needs to be precise: There’s only one effective way to lose weight: eat fewer calories.”

The food and beverage industries have tried to divert attention from calorie consumption by promoting the theory that a lack of physical exercise is a major cause of obesity. For example, The New York Times recently reported that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, “is backing a new ‘science-based’ solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise, and worry less about cutting calories.”

In their study, Luke and Cooper detail the evidence that physical activity isn’t key to losing weight. Some of their research points to the following:

  • It’s often argued that low obesity rates in Africa, India, and China are due in part to strenuous daily work routines. But the evidence doesn’t support this notion. For example, African Americans tend to weigh more than Nigerians. Studies by Luke and colleagues found that when corrected for body size, Nigerians don’t burn more calories through physical activity than do African Americans.
  • Numerous clinical trials have found that exercise plus calorie restriction achieves virtually the same weight loss as calorie restriction alone.
  • Observational studies show no association between energy expenditure and subsequent weight change.
  • Extremely small proportions of the US population engage in levels of energy expenditure at a sufficiently high level to affect long-term energy balance.

Since their study was published in 2013, evidence has mounted that physical activity doesn’t influence obesity risk, according to Cooper and Luke.

“While physical activity has many benefits, multiple lines of evidence lead to the conclusion that an increase in physical activity is offset by an increase in calorie intake, unless conscious effort is made to limit that compensatory response,” they add.

— Source: Loyola University Health System