June 20, 2011

Healthy Choices

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently replaced the traditional food pyramid with a new symbol, "MyPlate," to provide simplified visual nutritional guidance.  MyPlate also includes recommendations to enjoy food, but to eat less, avoid oversized portions and compare sodium in foods.  No matter what picture is used to provide nutritional guidance or even what guidance is best, this change can help spark family discussions about making healthy choices. 

 

Most of us have seen our country's alarmingly high obesity rates, which are a serious health concern.  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "about 32 percent of U.S. children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 9 are overweight, and more than half of those children are considered obese."  Children with excessive weight issues lead to children and adults with significant health challenges.  CRS indicates that overweight or obese youth have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abnormal glucose tolerance, which are risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease later in life, and other health conditions associated with obesity are asthma, hepatic steatosis, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes.   

 

We all know how starting a day when you do not feel well makes everything more difficult, and in the case of overeating, this difficulty can often be prevented.  I am not advocating for the federal government to reach into people's refrigerators and cupboards and determine what we should be eating.  We can all make those decisions for ourselves, and the federal government already reaches into too much of our lives.  Rather, we can take personal responsibility, and we can lead by example.  We owe it to our children to help them understand and build lifestyles that enable them to succeed.  This includes making healthy choices and providing families with the freedom to choose the foods that match their interests and needs.  For example, the Administration's recognition of the nutritional value of potatoes through MyPlate will hopefully translate to better inclusion of potatoes as options in school lunches and the Women, Infants and Children's program.    

 

Fortunately, convenient, outdoor recreation, which can provide exercise, rejuvenation and family bonding opportunities, is in abundance in Idaho communities.  For example, the Boise River Greenbelt provides 22 miles of a scenic pathway through the city.  The Weiser River Trail stretches from Weiser through Midvale, Cambridge and Council, providing 84 miles of trail for public recreation.  The Idaho Falls Greenbelt extends five picturesque miles along the Snake River.

 

Educating youth about the importance of healthy choices can enable fit adulthood, as children carry these lessons throughout their lives.  That is one of the reasons I have been an advocate of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) and worked to make this program available in Idaho.  The FFVP provides fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks for children in schools and helps educate students about healthy eating choices.  This program benefits both students and farmers who grow high-quality produce, which we are blessed to have a plenty in Idaho.    

 

Making healthy choices improves our quality of life.  Taking a hard look at what and how much we are consuming and making changes where needed can help set our families on a healthful path.  While there are endless studies and access to quality nutritional information is helpful, we don't need to be told what to consume.  Most of us understand what is good for us and what should be avoided.  It is up to us to make those choices.

  

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