San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 23rd, 2010
Food program takes aim at obesity

071910CrixellDr. Sylvia Crixell, Nutrition and Foods Program Coordinator at Texas State’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, will oversee the new Best Food FITS! program.

STAFF REPORT

An innovative new program hopes to stem the tide of the growing obesity problem in the U.S., or, at least , locally.

The Best Food for Families, Infants and Toddlers! (Best Food FITS!), is an initiative sponsored by the Nutrition and Foods program in the Department  of Family and Consumer Sciences at Texas State. The program seeks to offer a new dietary strategy for local residents.

The Best Food FITS! program, supported by a $150,000 grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services, will try to employ a community-wide intervention program to influence better eating habits at an early age.

“We’re approaching all of the restaurants in the San Marcos community and asking if they will offer a children’s menu for infants and toddlers that includes fruits and vegetables,” said Sylvia Crixell of the university’s Department of Family and Consumer Services. Along with Crixell, B.J. Friedman and Jesse Rogers will oversee the project.

“This will be a positive environmental change for people in San Marcos,” said Crixell. “The goal is to make it easier for parents to provide their children meals with more fruits and vegetables and fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. Drinking too many sodas and juices, including fake fruit juices, provides too many liquid calories. These calories fail to make people feel ‘full,’ so they ultimately consume too many calories.”

Crixell continued, “There’s a national obesity crisis affecting U.S. adults, but a bigger problem, in my opinion, is pediatric obesity, because when kids are overweight they are more likely to develop chronic diseases as children and also become overweight adults. It’s a serious problem. Children in this country don’t eat well, starting from infancy. They eat too many French fries and drink too many sodas and often don’t eat vegetables.”

This kind of community wide-range approach is a new one and has never been attempted before. Crixell said the university is ready and willing to work with local restaurants to help them be part of the innovative change. Dietitians on the Texas State staff will work with restaurants to develop healthy offerings that are both flavorful and appealing to children while staying within the parameters of what the restaurant offers on the menu to reduce any burden on the restaurant.

“We hope to understand the barriers faced by restaurants and will make every effort to help them make these positive changes,” Crixell said. “For some restaurants, it will be easier for them to comply than it will be for others, and we’re aware of that. Community changes are more important than any other kind of intervention, because they change the whole environment. Our current environment is ‘obesogenic,’ contributing to the problem. We hope to make it less so.”

The program is still in its early stages, but has met with positive response. Grins Restaurant, 802 North LBJ Drive, already has agreed to participate.

“We have been thinking about it because it can be a wonderful, wonderful thing,” said Grins owner Paul Sutphen. “My idea is a vegetable plate, working with stuff we already have. That would entice families, and families are always price conscious I already do serve kid’s salads. That’s where I’m trying to go now.”

Program supervisor Friedman said that Best Food FITS! is also partnering with the San Marcos Public Housing Authority to modify the new adult education building with four new teaching kitchens. Cooking classes, featuring healthy ways of cooking fresh produce will be taught by students from the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Class participants will receive produce vouchers redeemable at the San Marcos Farmer’s Market, 204 South Edward Gary.

The program seeks to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by San Marcos residents and establish healthy eating habits for children that will guide their dietary choices for life.

“While it seems like a big task to get the restaurants to change, you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Crixell. “We’re anticipating some restaurants will be very excited about it, hopefully more than we know. If we can establish healthy eating habits in infants and toddlers, maybe we have a chance to really attack the obesity problem.”

More information on the Best Food FITS! program can be obtained by contacting the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at (512) 245-2155.

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