Gov. Bill Haslam announces a new initiative to combat obesity through the Health and Wellness Task Force during a March 8, 2012, meeting at the Tennessee Hospital Association Building in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of TN.gov)
NASHVILLE - More Tennessee children are battling obesity these days, with nearly 30 percent of K-12 schoolchildren in the state considered either "overweight" or "obese" in the most recent American Health rankings.
Gov. Bill Haslam has taken notice.
The governor has charged a special task force with developing initiatives for improving Tennesseans' health. Haslam said he considers the issue significant enough to affect the state's economy and budget, calling obesity a cultural issue for Tennesseans.
Pediatrician Bill Sears, a consultant to Baby Talk and Parenting magazines, said obesity in children is preventable, in most cases. The unhealthy situation starts early in life, he explained.
"Children today have lost their tastes for real food," Sears said. "They are taught from infancy that food needs to be artificially sweetened, colored and flavored. When it is, they're going to eat more of it."
To combat this problem, he said parents should use a "real simple" policy: serving "real" foods. That means foods that run or swim, foods that grow - in short, foods that are not made in factories.
Portion sizes are another key to the problem, Sears added.
"Parent's forget the stomach is the size of their fist," he said. "Theoretically, a child should eat no more than a fistful of food at each meal. A child is designed to nibble throughout the day; this has been well studied. If you let children alone and don't force-feed them, they will graze and nibble all day long."
Sears, a pediatrics professor at the University of California School of Medicine, said parents often assume a child is picky when, in fact, his or her body is exercising natural portion control. Sears said he recommends that kids eat small meals, at least six times a day, to ensure healthier eating habits and discourage overeating.
More information about the task force is available on the governor's website, www.tn.gov.