I am so excited to start my garden program for kids as a supermarket dietitian! It’s my third year implementing the program I developed as a way to connect kids to fresh food through gardening and cooking. Today was the first day of the program (pictures to come), but I wanted to share a little more about what we will be doing this year.
I am working with the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and utilizing their toolkits from their “Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow” campaign. They have done a great job creating simple materials for use with elementary-age kids. I wanted to know more about the background of the program so I interviewed the creator to give insight into what the motivation of “Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow” campaign. Melissa Halas – Liang is a registered dietitian and owner of Super Kids Nutrition – a business dedicated to giving families the tools to live healthier lives. She partnered with AICR to build these toolkits that are downloadable for free.
1.Tell me about SuperKids Nutrition – what is your mission and whom do you hope to help?
Melissa: SuperKids Nutrition started to help provide nutrition education, healthy eating tips, and fun learning activities on-line and in the community to parents and kids. Our goal is to help make healthy behaviors fun. Our mission is building healthy families and communities, and that starts with kids. The science of epigenetics (changing of gene function without changes to DNA) shows that what we eat and how much we move during childhood affects how our genes behave, and impacts our risk for many chronic diseases (such as cancer) throughout life. Many of the foods kids eat today are disease promoting, not disease preventing. At SuperKids Nutrition we empower children to start their lives off in a healthy way – by eating foods and engaging in physical activities that shield their bodies from future disease.
2. How did you get interested in child and family nutrition?
Melissa: I have always been fascinated with food and how it affects the body. As a young girl, I had food allergies. My mom made changes to my diet so I could eat nutritiously and be healthy – and it really helped my allergies! So it’s not surprising that I continued on the path she began: I pursued a master’s degree in nutrition and became a registered dietitian. 10 years later, I became pregnant with my daughter and dove head first into pregnancy and child nutrition. When my daughter was a baby, I attended playgroups and baby-and-me classes, and was alarmed to see the kinds of food well-meaning parents were feeding their children. Didn’t these nice, seemingly smart parents notice that the 100-calorie cookie snack pack they were about to give their toddler was laden with unpronounceable ingredients? They didn’t know that fruit roll-ups aren’t fruit at all, or how to cope with busy schedules and make healthy eating work for them. It was hard to see how little parents knew about the importance of healthy food and how it affects their children. That was when knew I needed to devote my life to inspiring moms and educators to feed kids right from the start!
3. Tell me about the “Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow” campaign you recently launched with AICR? What do you hope happens as a result?
Melissa: The “Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow” campaign is about helping to prevent future cancer in children. My company, SuperKids Nutrition Inc., teamed up with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) to get an important research finding out to the masses—approximately one in three cancers could be prevented if we all ate healthier, moved more, and weighed less, and this needs to start at a young age. AICR continually reviews and evaluates the evidence on how cancer risk is influenced by diet, weight, and physical activity. Some of the most compelling evidence to emerge recently revolves around the link between obesity and increased risk for seven different cancers – and today, more kids are overweight and obese than ever before.
Our end goal with this campaign is to make it easier for parents to help their kids grow into healthy, active, informed adults. We also want to raise awareness that whenever we talk about a healthy kids’ diet, we’re also talking about the long-term prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases. Cancer can take decades to evolve. The best part is that by helping to prevent cancer we help prevent heart disease and other illness, too. For example, of the nation’s overweight 5 to 10 year-olds, 61% already exhibit at least one major risk factor for heart disease, and 26% have two or more! One study found that 60% of autopsied accident victims aged 15 to 19 years had atheroscleros, a precursor to heart disease and the nation’s #1 killer overall. We teach parents that certain foods can actually help prevent their children from getting cancer, heart disease, and diabetes!
4. If there is one thing you would encourage families to do to be healthier, what would it be?
Melissa: The first step to becoming healthier is to make a commitment! Being healthy takes time, planning, and dedication – but believe me, it is well worth the effort. The “Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow” campaign asks both parents and children to take a pledge to commit themselves to healthier habits by completing monthly activities together. The Cancer Prevention Pledge can be found here: [www.aicr.org/healthykids/#pledge]
5. What are two tools or resources that every family could use to be equipped to create a healthier family?
Melissa: My website has tons of great tips, advice, and easy to understand articles about how to turn your family into a super-health one. There is even a special section just for kids to help get them involved. Our social media gives daily inspiration and easy to implement food ideas that work with busy schedules. (Be sure to like her Facebook page in the social media link!)
The online “Toolkits” created by AICR and SuperKdis Nutrition give families ways to track their healthy changes, and provide recipes and fun activities –they are a must see of family nutrition tools! They are fun, creative, and above all easy to use!
Thanks to Melissa for sharing such great information about the Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow campaign. Of course, I will be sharing more throughout the summer on how we implemented the lessons she created!