Smart Choices for Youth and Adults

Linda Benedict, Roy, Heli J.  |  11/21/2008 3:54:08 AM

When you eat out, choose salads with low-calorie or no dressing. Choose entrees that include vegetables. (Photo by Mark Claesgens)

Read nutrition labels to determine which food product is giving you the most nutrients for the price. If you buy juice, is it 100 percent juice? How much sugar does it contain? Does it supply 100 percent of the vitamin C requirement? (Photo by Mark Claesgens)

side salad

Heli J. Roy and Chad Eriksen

Our dietary patterns define our cultural identity. Asians are known for eating rice, while pasta is associated with Italy and the Mediterranean region. Louisiana is known for its seafood and rice dishes.

Our families, friends, places of worship and social networks are defined by dietary patterns and behaviors. Dietary attitudes are established early in life and continue into adulthood. Dietary patterns are associated with festivities, celebrations, religious observances and certain lifecycle rites of passage.
 
Dietary patterns are influenced by socioeconomic, educational, demographic and lifestyle factors. In Louisiana and elsewhere, dietary patterns are linked to inequalities in education and income. Better diets are associated with affluence, whereas nutrient-poor diets are consumed by persons of lower socioeconomic status. Those in the low socioeconomic group consume more energy-dense foods, including refined grains and added fat and less fresh fruits and vegetables and variety of foods.
 
Louisiana’s high poverty rate contributes to chronic diseases. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death in Louisiana. Obesity and overweight also contribute to the increased incidence of diabetes that has reached epidemic proportions.
 
Louisiana is ranked fourth highest in the country in obesity. Sixty-three percent of Louisiana adults are obese or overweight. Seventeen percent of Louisiana children are overweight, and an equal amount are estimated to be at risk for overweight. Since 1990, the obesity rate increased from 12.3 percent to 30.8 percent of the population. This increased obesity has led to increases in medical expenses for the state. Obese adults have a 36 percent higher average annual medical expenditure than adults of normal weight. The cost of child obesity-associated illnesses increased from $35 million to $127 million in the past two decades. In addition, children today are being diagnosed with diseases that only occurred in adults a couple of decades ago.
 
One contributing factor to the high level of chronic diseases seen in Louisiana is the type of diet consumed. Most adults and children do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, and more than half do not participate in any physical activity. Convenience food or fast food, defined as food purchased in self-service or carry-out eating places, has become a dominant eating pattern among children and adults. Many studies show the association between high intake of fast-food consumption and increased body weight. Those who consume fast foods consume more total energy, fat, saturated fat and sodium.

Other changes in eating habits seen in the past two decades are increased restaurant food, soft drinks and salty snack consumption and larger portion sizes. Larger food portions could be contributing to the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity seen today. Portions served by restaurants and fast-food establishments are nearly double the size of current recommended U.S. Department of Agriculture serving sizes. All of these contribute to increased total energy intake associated with weight gain and obesity.
 
Louisiana cuisine is known throughout the world for its well-seasoned food and seafood creations. However, many traditional foods such as catfish, crawfish and vegetables are fried, while others are laden in thick and rich sauces. Poor eating habits can result in many nutrition-related conditions including iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes.
 
Smart Choices
The LSU AgCenter provides education to Louisiana citizens on nutrition and health. Extension agents offer nutrition education programs across Louisiana to combat childhood and adult obesity and to reduce the chronic disease burden. LSU AgCenter specialists developed a series of lessons for both youth and adults based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid. The lessons are known as Smart Choices and are taught in homes, schools, libraries, community centers, religious institutes and food stamp offices.
 
The curriculum for youth includes 10 lessons covering topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, the nutrition labels, healthy breakfasts, snack choices, fruits and vegetables, the protein group, and information about fat, sugar and salt.

The adult curriculum consists of 17 lessons addressing physical activity, heart health, thrifty shopping, eating on the go, food safety, the food label, healthy pregnancy, feeding young children and basic food preparation techniques. The lessons include food tasting and sampling and hands-on activities to educate both adults and children about adding variety and introduce them to new fruits and vegetables.

Extension agents reach more than 200,000 individuals across the state each year teaching nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills to adults and youth at homes and in schools. Nutrition education increases the consumption of vegetables, whole grains and fruits and participation in physical activity. It decreases consumption of foods high in saturated fats. After participating in LSU AgCenter programs, adults become more physically active and a majority double daily vegetable consumption, while nearly half increase whole-grain and fruit consumption. Many individuals make healthier food choices, such as choosing lean meats, foods with less saturated fat, low-fat dairy foods and foods lower in sodium. Individuals also learn to shop better. They plan their meals ahead of time and make grocery lists before going to the store. They compare prices at the grocery store, and they read nutrition facts on labels. They also stretch their food dollars better by making their grocery money last longer.
 
Another important aspect of the Smart Choices lesson is food safety. Individuals learn how to thaw food safely, and they learn to store food safely. Children learn proper hand washing techniques.
 
Throughout the United States and around the world, Louisiana has become well-recognized for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. Louisiana’s unique food culture has helped families maintain a sense of generation and cultural identity throughout the years, but it has also fostered poor eating habits and limited the adoption of variety of fruits and vegetables that abound today. LSU AgCenter extension agents have and continue to educate the citizens of Louisiana on healthy eating habits to combat the chronic disease burden.

Heli J. Roy, Associate Professor, and Chad Eriksen, Graduate Research Assistant, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La

(This article was published in the fall 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)  

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