Getting teenagers to put down the sodas and jumbo bags of Cheetos is not a new challenge, but it’s an especially pressing one these days. “We’re obviously concerned about the obesity epidemic. People are heavier than they should be,” says Dennis M. Styne, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “They have very bad habits, and they don’t even notice that they do.”
It doesn’t help that we’ve become a society of convenience and that mandatory high school P.E. classes have largely fallen by the wayside, adds Shawn Hayes. He is the chief academic officer for HealthCorps, TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz’s national nutrition and fitness program that’s in place on a half-dozen Sacramento area school campuses. “That has really left us in a place where families and kids don’t have a lot of information,” Hayes says. “They’re busy. They very often make unhealthy choices.”
The Sacramento-based California Food Literacy Center also works with students and, says founder and executive director Amber Stott, education can work when presented to adolescents in relevant and meaningful ways. “Teens especially want to be able to define themselves. Food is a very easy space to be able to do that,” she says. “They really want to understand how their bodies work, and they really want this information. They’re very hungry for it.” Here is more from a handful of educators, chefs and others on how to turn the corner on such weighty matters as childhood obesity and help teens get a handle on better eating habits.
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