Building Health Eating Behavior

By: Debraha Watson, Ph.D.

Healthy eating behavior must be introduced in early childhood and continue throughout life.  Food and nutrition choices promote optimal childhood physical and intellectual development; preventing diseases such as diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, heart disease and tooth and gum disease.  Being overweight in childhood is also associated with bullying and low self-esteem.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.  Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.   Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks frequently about kids’ health, nutrition, and fitness.  However, many adults may not know that obesity in children is an epidemic.  Many of us grew up hearing that “the chubby baby was the cute baby, or that no one wants a bone but a dog.”  I had to belong to the clean plate club and I snacked on soda and potatoes chips, rather than water and apple slices.   It wasn’t until I became a middle aged adult diagnosed with diabetes that I paid attention to healthy eating and physical activity.  I not only had to change my habits, but I had to ensure that I passed healthier eating habits on to my children.

At the Mayor’s Summit on Food Deserts, Chicago, 10/25/2011, Mrs. Obama reminded us that “We all grew up in communities with grandmothers who cooked two, three vegetables that you had to eat. There was no ifs, ands or buts about it. But that’s because many of our grandparents, had community gardens; there was the vegetable man that came around. There were many other resources that allowed them to have access. So it’s not that people don’t know or don’t want to do the right thing; they just have to have access to the foods that they know will make their families healthier.” We must ensure that we continue to provide education to our communities and increase their access to healthy, fresh, affordable food.

Let me leave you with some strategies that we can all employ to keep ourselves healthy:

  • Reduce salt ,sugar and fat intake
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain
  • Adults serve as role models by monitoring our weight and exercising with children
  • Use incentives and verbal praise to reinforce healthy eating
  • Allow children to help with food preparation and snacks.  Even allowing them to come up with their own healthy recipes.
  • Encourage children to try unfamiliar and culturally diverse foods that are low in sodium, and added sugars
  • Go “old school” and start a garden allowing children to see the beauty of nature at work.
  • Advocate for healthy food choices in school cafeterias and vending machines

A suggested but not all inclusive list of healthy foods that children can prepare and enjoy:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Raw vegetables with low fat dip
  • Cinnamon or Peanut Butter Toast
  • ·      Fruit & Cheese Kabobs
  • ·      Yogurt Parfaits
  • Ants on a Log (celery, peanut butter and raisins)
  • Low fat cookies such as fig bars, gingersnaps, animal crackers
  • Micro-wave popcorn
  • Whole grain bread with peanut butter or low fat cheese
  • Low sugar cereals
  • Snack mixes of dried fruit, raisins, nuts and seeds

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Eliminating Childhood Obesity with Healthy Eating and Physical Activity


By: Dr. John M. Flack, Chair of Department of Medicine, Wayne State University

               Preventing obesity is the best approach for protecting our youth against chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and some cancers.  The best strategies for obesity prevention are relatively straightforward – however implementing these strategies is the challenge.  Our lives and our children’s lives are structured in a way that minimizes regular physical activity while exposing us to easily available energy-dense foods.  Over the long-term, this is a very efficient way to gain unwanted weight.  Energy-dense foods include fast foods, fried foods, pastries, and desserts.  To many of us these foods taste good.  When we eat these foods our brains release chemicals that make us feel good.  Humans eat until we are full; since energy-dense foods take up little volume we eat more of them, consuming more calories in the process.  Our preference for the taste of energy-dense food is learned very early in life.  Soft drinks that are loaded with sugar are another dietary exposure that our youth acquire a taste for that is a major contributor to the epidemic of obesity in our youth.

As parents, we must pay more attention to the foods that are readily available for our children.  Fruits and vegetables are not energy-dense foods.  These foods are much healthier than energy-dense foods because they have a high fiber and water content.  Thus, when we eat them they take up space in our stomachs, and we feel full after consuming fewer calories.  Our youth also do not get enough exercise.  Many schools have eliminated gym classes.  After-school television, computer time, and video games take up much of our youth’s time – at the expense of burning calories by playing sports, riding a bike, walking/running, etc.  How does this happen?  As parents we are busy and don’t always pay close attention to what our children are eating and how active they are.  Even school sports participation now costs us at many schools, which is another barrier to youth activity.

What are the solutions?  One suggestion is for us to set a good example for our youth by engaging in regular (appropriate) physical activity ourselves.  We can also give more attention to food preparation and the types of food available for our families.  Eating out by itself does not always equate to being un-healthy. You have to be very selective when ordering, though, because most places are likely to have few healthy options.  Avoid trying to be perfect.  I try and get my patients (and family) to embrace the 80:20 rule.  That is, it’s what  you do 80% of the time that causes trouble over the long-term not what you do 20% of the time.  If fruit and fresh vegetables, for example, are what you have to snack on rather than cookies, cakes, and sugar water drinks, our children will adapt.

Any change(s) you can make toward a healthier lifestyle, no matter how small or incremental, can make a difference.  If it was easy, everyone would already be doing it.  However, there is very little worth doing that is easy!

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A Second Glance: “Celebrating A Healthier Detroit”, Fitness & Wellness Tent

             If you did not attend The McKinney Foundation’s 3rd Annual Health Expo “Celebrating a Healthier Detroit”, I strongly suggest you mark your calendar for the next one, which will be Saturday, August 10th, 2013!

                On August 11th, 2012, I was a part of a movement that touched the lives of Metro Detroiters. With a combination of “live” entertainment, healthy cooking sessions and tastings, fitness demonstrations, interactive health seminars, immunizations, children’s activities and amazing give-a-ways, participants had a blast and received plenty of resources to help jumpstart their healthy lifestyle journey. This event was by far the most engaging health event that I’ve ever experienced and I believe anyone who went would say the same!

               Have you ever participated in Yoga? This was just one of the many fitness demonstrations that took place under this year’s Fitness Tent. Fitness Professionals from all over Metro Detroit gathered on August 11th to help educate people on the importance of physical activity and the benefits of incorporating fitness into their everyday lives. The fitness demonstrations were developed to encourage people of all ages and fitness levels to participate and get active.

Below you can read about one Instructor who graciously volunteered her time under the Fitness & Wellness Tent for the 2012 “Celebrating a Healthier Detroit” Health Expo.

 Yoga with Kristina Pruccoli 

               My first experience with yoga was in high school. I took my time experimenting with the many different styles of yoga practice. Then I left the practice for a period of time to pursue a degree in the Fine Arts and in Art Education.  In 2007, I reconnected with my mat and began my yoga journey once again.  I practiced with diligence and pleasure.  I studied and practiced under Linda Kay Nathan with her compassionate guidance and subsequently achieved the RYT designation. Cultivating my craft by experiencing many different teachers as well as a long time dedicated practice to Ashtanga.  I recently returned from 3 months in India studying Ashtanga with Sharath Jois.

I am a teacher in my heart and remain committed to life-long learning.  My mission is to serve yoga practitioners as a caring guide, helping them to explore and expand freedom of expression of the body, mind and spirit. Though teaching, I have the unique opportunity to continue to develop myself in the shared quest for the fulfillment of our human potential.

My blog:

Yoga is for everyone: for people old and young, thin and obese, yoga is accessible. There are many different options that make the practice of yoga possible for everyone. At the 3rd annual “Celebrating a Healthier Detroit Expo” participants learned just that. Under a tent with the earth as our mat we did chair yoga. It offered the opportunity for everyone to experience the power of yoga regardless of his or her condition. We did simple poses using a chair to open hips, hamstrings and groin; exercises that participants can take home or to work. Sharing the benefits of yoga with Detroiters showed them how it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and strengthens the body and mind. What a wonderful opportunity!

Be sure to check back for future blogs that will feature other Fitness Professionals from The McKinney Foundation’s 3rd Annual, “Celebrating A Healthier Detroit” Expo. To learn dates of all upcoming Healthy Seminar series visit our facebook page or website at

Whitney Harrison is a fitness and wellness professional for CompuWare.  She served on the 2012 Planning Committee for The McKinney Foundation’s 3rd Annual, “Celebrating a Healthier Detroit” Expo.

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Lets Get Started!

Summer is right around the corner, making this the perfect time to get up, get out and get active! Fitness and physical activity play a critical role in overall health and well-being (along with nutrition).  The thought of starting a fitness routine, however, may feel overwhelming. Good news- once you have decided to make a lifestyle change, you are already on your way!

  • First, consult with your physician. Prior to beginning any exercise program it is recommended that you discuss your fitness plans with your physician for your safety. However, do not procrastinate with beginning your workout if you cannot get in right away! If you’ve experienced prior medical conditions or injuries make this a priority, until then, start with something simple such as walking and gradually pick up the pace.
  • Next, take time to document your fitness goals thoroughly. Besides writing down weight loss goals, take time to list the reasons behind your desire to lose weight or tone up (i.e. ten year class reunion, increase self-esteem, health benefits). Confess all of your thoughts and emotions as you write and use those things as inspiration during your journey. Be sure to set goals that are very specific, measurable and reasonable. You may even find it beneficial to create a vision board for motivation. Track your progress by keeping notes, and make changes as you see fit.
  • Set a workout schedule. Eliminate the “I’m too busy” excuse because it can be done. It takes commitment and discipline.  Designate specific days and times for your workout, and mark it in your calendar as an appointment. Set your alarm if needed.
  • Reward yourself. No one knows you better than yourself. When setting goals remember to grant yourself rewards for each accomplishment achieved. This should indeed keep you motivated.
  • Rest and Recovery. Allow your body time to rest between workout sessions. You can expect to experience soreness; give your muscles time to heal.
  • Find a workout buddy or Personal Trainer. Working with a buddy or trainer can push you to levels you may not reach alone. It also serves as another source of motivation. Also try a variety of group fitness classes to foster a fitness support group.
  • Shake things up a bit! Explore new activities that require you to move such as swimming, bicycling, dancing, sports, gardening, hiking, group fitness classes, taking the stairs, chasing your children, whatever it takes to get you moving!

Once you’re in the swing of things, begin to alter your diet by making healthier food choices. Exercise and a healthy diet is a powerful combination to help you reach your fitness goals! Remember to stay positive and most importantly share your testimony to help motivate others. Good Luck!

Be sure to check out the Detroit Department of Recreation and the Detroit Boys and Girls Club for fun activities in the metro Detroit area!

Whitney Harrison is a fitness and wellness professional for CompuWare.  She serves on the 2012 Planning Committee for The McKinney Foundation’s 3rd Annual, “Celebrating a Healthier Detroit” Expo.

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Homemade & Healthy: Fruit Smoothie!

This healthy fruit smoothie recipe is fun, easy, and tasty!

Ingredients Needed:

– 2 cups Fresh Strawberries

– 1 Banana

– 1/2 cup Frozen Strawberries

– 1 cup Blackberry

– 1 cup Blueberries

– 1/4 cup Agave Nectar

– 1/2 cup Greek or Soy Yogurt

– 1/2 cup Apple Juice

*Suggested fruits may be substituted to taste.


First, take fresh fruit, juice w/agave and yogurt and blend. Then, add frozen fruit slowly, to avoid making it too difficult for your blender to handle. Done!

Recipe provided by Healthy Cooking Chef Chris McClendon

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Homemade & Healthy: Peanut Butter & Jelly

This healthy Peanut Butter and Jelly recipe is quick, easy, cost efficient and healthy!

Peanut Butter

Directions: Place all ingredients into a processor bowl and blend until smooth.

TIP: If you want chunky peanut butter, mix until smooth, then add more peanuts at the end and lightly grind. You can also add extra honey for sweetness.

Ingredients Needed:

– 16 oz. Roasted Nuts

– 1 tsp. Kosher Salt

– 1 1/2 tsp. Honey

– ¼ C Peanut Oil

Strawberry Apple Jam

Directions: Take washed and hulled strawberries and blend with apple chips until smooth. Take mixture and cook stove top on medium heat, until it reduces to a thick syrup and reaches the temperature of 220 degrees (About 5 minutes or so). Then add lemon juice to brighten flavor.

TIP: Use the plate test to ensure that it is not runny. Place a plate in the freezer until it becomes cold then place 1 tsp. of jelly on plate. If it stays, you have nice jelly! If it is runny then it needs to cook longer.

Ingredients Needed:

– 3 lbs. Strawberries

– 6 cups Agave Nectar

– 2 cups Apple Chips

– 1/4 C  Lemon Juice

Recipe courtesy of Healthy Cooking Chef Chris McClendon

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Make Your Walk A Workout!

A common mistake made by most people starting a new physical fitness regimen is that they believe they have to go all out by purchasing a gym membership or buy expensive equipment to actually get started and see results.  Normally the mere thought of going to a gym makes people nervous and thus they never start because of that alone.  The fact is that if you’re a newly converted exercise enthusiast and just starting out, a simple walking program can help you burn calories, improve your cardiovascular system and overall make you feel better.

Commentary by Callie Bradford, MS Next Generation Fit Kids Executive Director 

Even if you work all day from 8-5 or are a shift worker and your shcedule fluctuates you can still incorporate a walking workout into your schedule while at work.

Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program if you’ve been inactive for a while.

To start your walking program:

Establish a baseline, says Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS, author of The Outdoor Athlete. “If you’ve been sedentary, start walking three times a week at a stroll for 20 minutes.” Work your way up to five or so times a week, 30 minutes per session, for a total of 2.5 to 3 hours per week.

Choose distance or time. Some walkers focus on distance, others target time. “Ultimately, it’s about speed,” Schurman says. “If you can walk five miles but it takes you five hours to do it, it’s not a fit level of work. So use both distance and time, as well as heart rate.”

Check the intensity. Exercising at a particular heart rate percentage enables you to gauge the difficulty of your workout.

You can check your heart rate by manually checking your pulse or purchase a simple heart rate monitor. Keep in mind, however, that the traditional heart rate formula standards do not fit everyone. “Most recommendations suggest starting out at 70% to 75% of your maximum heart rate, but this may not be enough if you’re fit,” Schurman says.

Or use the “talk test” to gauge your exercise intensity. “If you can string together six to eight words or chat briefly, you’re in your aerobic zone,” Schurman says. But if you find yourself gasping for air, lower the intensity. If you can say several phrases with one breath, you may not be working out hard enough.

The McKinney Foundation partners with Mrs. Callie Bradford MS, Executive Director of Next Generation Fit Kids to provide fitness and nutritional resources for metro Detroit communities.   Find NGFK on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube!

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