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By Senator Mike Crapo

The Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) estimates that a nine-year-old boy, 53 inches tall and weighing 63 pounds, needs 1,500 calories a day, if he doesn't exercise approximately an hour every day. A 20-ounce soft drink, super-sized serving of fries and a bacon cheeseburger provide about 1,500 calories. This means this inactive child would get all his caloric (but not nutritional) needs in one typical fast food meal. The remaining snacks and meals over the course of that day make the aggregate calories consumed far in excess of what he needs to maintain his growing body's health. If that child were to exercise an hour every day, his caloric needs would increase by one-third; however, even a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet doesn't leave room for the high-calorie snacks and food that many American children consume every day. Furthermore, quality is just as important as quantity. This means that the 1,500 to 2,000 calorie diet your child needs to maintain good health must include a balanced diet of whole fruits, vegetables, protein, a calcium source and, yes, even fat and sugar, in small amounts. The key is balance, with a minimal intake of highly-processed foods.

As families adjust to school year routines of school lunches and busy evening schedules, it's a good time to revisit the important topic of childhood nutrition.

First and foremost, the nutritional intake of children and teens is almost entirely determined by parental choices made on their behalf. Research now indicates that poor eating habits in childhood can bring earlier onsets of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases as an adult. This makes it as important for parents to provide healthy eating options for their children as it is for them to monitor what their children are exposed to on television, in movies and on the Internet. Admittedly, monitoring what your children eats is much easier at home than at school. The good news is that the recently-passed Farm Bill includes a proven national fruit and vegetable program that brings continued funding to provide Idaho children the option of choosing fresh fruit and vegetables when they eat at school. All students in participating schools receive fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost where a high proportion of children are eligible to receive free- or reduced-price school meals. This has the potential to develop further improved eating habits outside of school as well, helping you in your quest to help your child eat healthy. In fact, more than 60 percent of the Farm Bill is devoted to nutrition programs: the most recent Farm Bill included more than $10 billion in increases in nutrition programs for the life of the bill.

In addition to nutrition, research is now confirming what most of us already knew intuitively: children who have a good opinion of their athletic ability, tend to be more active which increases the likelihood that they will continue to be active as adults. Increased physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic illness and being fit and agile, as a child or an adult, makes everyday living easier.

Obviously, educated common sense is the best gauge when it comes to eating, feeding our families and encouraging exercise. In our busy lives, it's good to know that schools and the federal government are on the side of health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are just two of a number of reliable resources for tips on keeping kids healthy through diet and exercise, making our vigilance when it comes to the current and future health of our children a little bit easier.