Wednesday, May 22, 2013



“To improve health outcomes, we must get better at improving health literacy.” 

                                      --Nat Irvin II, DMA, M.A.
                                                                 Professor of Management
                                                                  University of Louisville, College of Business

Professor Irvin was making his final remarks at last month’s Health Equity Summit held at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.  The meeting was about bridging the gaps in the health of residents of Louisville, but his message applies to every city in this country. 

Improving health literacy is central to the mission and education projects of the Growing Healthy Kids movement.  Which is why we had a very important date with 40 elementary age children recently to talk about ketchup.

Hold on there.  Did you say ketchup?  Yes, ketchup.  The kids went nuts when they walked into the art room at the Boys and Girls Club in Sebastian, Florida and saw a bottle of Hunt’s “No Preservatives” tomato ketchup on the front table.  I heard kids say, “I love that stuff!”  and “Can I have some?”  An American staple, right?  Ketchup is made from tomatoes, but what parents often don’t know, or take the time to notice, is that it also contains added sugars and added salt.  

Teaching kids about sugar at the Boys and Girls Club (see the bottle of ketchup?)

As the kids learned, a serving size for ketchup is 1 tablespoon.  Next time you use ketchup, measure out 1 tablespoon and see how little that really is.  Then ask yourself, "Will I have one serving or will I be having 3 or 4 or 5?"  When I occasionally use ketchup at home, like when I make oven-baked sweet potato fries, I have more than 1 tablespoon.   But I don’t eat it every day or every week.  All the kids who eat chicken McNuggets every day are getting lots of hidden, added calories from the added sugars in the ketchup they are piling on the McNuggets.  That’s where we are getting into trouble with extra calories and extra weight.

How do you teach kids, or parents for that matter, that sugar is what we call the “evil empire” ingredient?  A little bit is OK for most people but it is easy to eat too much of it.

Let’s look at sugar by the numbers.  15-4-0-0-0-0-75 

One teaspoon of the white stuff has 15 calories.  
One teaspoon has 4 grams of carbohydrates.  
One teaspoon has no protein.  
One teaspoon has no vitamins.  
One teaspoon has no minerals.  
One teaspoon has no nutritional value.  
One teaspoon of sugar contains calories but no nutritional value.  
There are more than 75 names for sugar.  

The fact is that eating too much sugar leads to obesity, depression, diabetes, acne, tooth decay, inflammation, and other health issues.

A 12-ounce can of soda has around 44 grams of sugar.  That equals 11 teaspoons of sugar.   That’s 165 calories with no nutritional value.  What Growing Healthy Kids is asking parents to do is to start looking at the sugar content of the foods you are buying for your kids (and you).  Choose foods with less sugar, not more.  Drink water, not soda.  

A special thank you to Ella Chabot, Art Director at the Sebastian Boys and Girls Club, and Jordan Adams, Branch Director, for inviting Growing Healthy Kids to teach the children you serve.

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids