Wednesday, July 19, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Meditating for Health

"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."  
                              
                                --Buddha

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On a recent Southwest flight, an article in Southwest: The Magazine made me think about the heart of the Growing Healthy Kids project: giving kids tools for a lifetime of great physical, mental, and emotional health.  The article was about Andy Puddicombe, a man who spent 10 years as a monk in a monastery studying Buddhism.  He is now on a mission to help create a healthier, happier world.  Andy created an app called “Headspace” which teaches people how to meditate. He and his partner have also launched “Headspace for Kids”.
 

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Most kids today are on a daily digital overload.  Many kids have learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD).  Many of the foods kids eat are high in sugar and bad fats and are harmful to the brain.  Many kids are living with daily stress caused by growing up in poverty, through no fault of theirs.  Some kids are society’s victims of situational poverty, when parent are living paycheck to paycheck, lose a job and now the family is homeless.  Kids who are overweight get bullied by other kids and experience depression and anxiety.  Kids who live in neighborhoods with high incidences of violent crimes and shooting experience stress just getting to and from school.  Learning how to focus the mind and relax the body with mediation can improve health outcomes for a lifetime. 

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Meditation is a simple practice that can change your life.  Some of the benefits of meditation include:
  • A reduction in stress
  • Improved concentration
  • Personal commitment to a healthier lifestyle
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved attitude
  • Increased happiness
  • Slowdown of aging
  • Improved cardiovascular and immune system health

Who are we as a society to not actively seek ways to protect and promote our children’s brain health?  Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. is focused on improving the health – and lives – of America’s children.  Given the many benefits of meditation, isn’t it worth 10 minutes a day to give it a chance?  Google “Headspace for Kids” (go to www.headspace.com or click here).
  
With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Plant-Based Eating

“If people adopted a plant-based diet, the changes we would see in our individual health and our national health situation and in this physical and environmental world we live in would be profound.” 
                          --Dr. Michael Klaper, MD, from the 2017 film, "What the Health" (whatthehealthfilm.com)


Image result for spinachYears ago, I made a conscious change in what I eat.  There were several reasons, including a desire to actively prevent cardiovascular disease (prevalent in my family) and the awareness that eating plants and grains instead of meat is an easy way to feed everyone on the planet (thank you, Frances Moore Lappe).  The fact is  that eating meat is a luxury enjoyed by people in first world countries.  People in poor countries rarely eat meat because they can’t afford it. 

The evidence continues to grow about the improved health outcomes of people who follow a plant-based way of eating.  It certainly costs less.  For example, a bag of lentils:  $1.12  vs a pound of steak:  $8.99.  According to an article in the July-August 2017 AARP Bulletin, vegetarians save approximately $750 on their food bill each year.  In my opinion, the food savings are even higher for vegetarians. 

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Working with people with diabetes and heart disease, I see the effects close-up of eating foods high in saturated fats (found only in foods from animals) and refined carbohydrates (like added sugars) and the damage they cause.  Almost one in ten Americans has diabetes (estimated to be 9.3% according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).   Health consequences of diabetes include high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, kidney disease, amputations, loss of vision, neuropathy, and erectile dysfunction in men.  Want to spend a lot of money  personally and in our total national health spending?  Get diabetes. 

Please pass the spinach. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: On the Road Health

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."  
                                                                                  --Robert F. Kennedy


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A friend of mine has a CDL license and works as a school bus driver.  She and I frequently talk about the life of professional drivers, whether you are a long-haul truck driver moving products across the country or driving 40 rambunctious kids in a school bus from one side of the county to the other.  

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The lifestyle of a long-haul truck driver is unique:  
  • being gone from home and loved ones days and weeks at a time;
  • sitting and driving all day (or night) while working;
  • sleeping in the cab of a truck;
  • missing birthdays, sports and school activities; and
  • eating restaurant foods high in sodium and unhealthy fats and drinking energy drinks full of sugar and caffeine.

While school bus drivers sleep in their own beds every night, they face pre-dawn safety checks no matter how or cold it is, the stress of a split shift schedule, working in a sedentary job, avoiding rude and thoughtless drivers while driving a school bus filled with children, and responsible for the safety and well-being of every child they transport to and from schools across this country.

Professional drivers are at increased risk for obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  Why?  Jobs where people are sedentary, have high stress, and limited access to healthy, whole and plant-based foods put people in the bullseye of danger.  It is estimated that more than half of all truck drivers smoke. Seven in ten long-haul truck drivers are obese.  Veterans are being recruited into the long-haul trucking business and some have post-traumatic stress disorder.  All these people are targets for Big Pharma.  Got high blood pressure?  Take a pill.  Got high cholesterol?  Take a pill.  Got high blood sugar?  Take a pill. Got chronic pain?  Take a pill.  Got opioid-induced constipation?  Take a pill.  Can't sleep?  Take a pill.

Pills don’t treat the root causes of preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes.  Taking action to make personal health a priority does.  

Can you imagine shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco and finding all the shelves empty?  If every truck driver in the US suddenly developed diabetes, movement of goods in this country would come to a screeching halt.  Can you imagine America’s kids waiting for the school bus on the first day of school next month but no buses show up because all the drivers could not pass their health physicals?  Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, and obesity pose dangers to the health of Americans, but especially to professional drivers working to support their families. These diseases can strip them of their livelihood.  

What do truck drivers and school bus drivers have in common with the Growing Healthy Kids movement to prevent and reverse childhood obesity?  Families.  Every professional driver is connected to a network of family and friends.  They are role models for children, their own or someone else’s. 

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Are you in the driver’s seat of your own health?  Let’s work together to improve the health and health outcomes of America’s professional drivers.  I believe that if we are going to improve the health – and lives – of America’s children, we must care for their parents’ health.  Being sedentary or having a job that involves mainly sitting is considered by health experts to be as bad for your health as smoking.  

Reversing and preventing obesity and diabetes is a family affair.  Make your own health a priority.   Be a great role model for your children. 

Please pass the gluten-free zucchini muffins. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Embracing Plant-Based Eating

“A healthy diet can help prevent cancer, since up to 60% of cancer cases are diet-related.”  
        --Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org)

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With a nation filled with people battling obesity, cancers, heart disease, and diabetes, it is clear that what we eat matters.  Factory farming of cows, pigs, chicken and other animals for human consumption is driven by America’s greed for cheap food.  Hidden within huge factory farms, however, are unhealthy practices such as the use of drugs like artificial growth hormones that increase growth.  Did you know that since 1994 recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) has been used to increase milk production of dairy cows?  Monsanto developed and produced rbGH, then sold it to Eli Lilly (source: American Public Health Association).  In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration approved use of rbGH, while it has been banned in the European Union and Canada have banned its use since 1999.  Australia, New Zealand, and Japan now also ban its use.  These unhealthy practices of raising animals in the United States result in a rise of unhealthy outcomes in humans.  

A friend who works in a gym recently told me about the gym's physical trainers who insist they need to eat meat to maintain their training regimens and muscle strength.  Oh, contraire! 

There is not only misinformation about vegetarianism and veganism but there is also a lot of fear.  Most Americans are dependent on meat as their primary source of protein. Unfortunately, the way beef and chicken are raised as mass-produced industrial products for buyers such as McDonald’s, there are more risks than benefits. Foods from animals contain saturated fats, one of the two “unhealthy” fats (the other bad fat is trans fat).  Saturated fats should be limited because they increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.

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The evidence is mounting that plant-based eating is one of the healthiest choices we can make.  Within the plant world, there are many sources of protein, such as lentils, quinoa, and beans.  Plant protein does NOT contain saturated fat!  Plant-based eating has always been the basis for what we do in the Growing Healthy Kids movement, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.  It is the easiest way to achieve your daily intake of dietary fiber (28 or more grams) and anti-inflammatory foods (such as yellow, red, blue, and green vegetables and fruits).  

Please pass the quinoa! 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: The Power of Women

“If you want something said, ask a man.  If you want something done, ask a woman.” 
                                                                                    –Margaret Thatcher

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Educating, inspiring and empowering parents and communities is key to my mission of creating a world full of Growing Healthy Kids.  This article is for all the women who are raising kids, their own or others.  Parenthood comes in all shapes and sizes.  Your children may be your own biological kids.  You may be married to someone with children and now you are helping to raise their kids.  You may be a grandmother raising grandchildren.  You may be a mother who is mothering someone else’s children because they are latchkey kids or their parents are in jail or on drugs.  All these children are counting on women, as the primary caregivers in most families, to be there for them, to provide access to healthy food, to help them with their homework, to tuck them into bed.  

When a woman makes up her mind to do something, it will be done.  My Aunt Marcia is a perfect example and my role model for getting things done.  I will never forget when she decided she wanted a new window in her house on the farm.  She used a sledgehammer to smash a hole in the concrete brick wall and the rest is history. 

It is time for us to get out the sledgehammers so we can build the lives we want for ourselves and be positive role models for all the children we are raising, individually and collectively.  Begin by focusing on your own health.  Here is the checklist I have developed that keeps me accountable every day:
  1. Are you walking every day? 
  2. Are you giving yourself at least ten minutes for quiet meditation every day?
  3. Are you drinking plenty of water every day? 
  4. Are you eating vegetables every day?
  5. Are you eating several small meals every day?
  6. Are you laughing every day? 
  7. Are you having meaningful conversations every day? 
  8. Are you living on purpose every day?
  9. Are you having fun every day?
  10. Are you learning something new every day?

The following quote by Marianne Williamson always inspires me.  I hope it will inspire you as well:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is not our darkness but our light that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a Child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine as children do.   WE were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.   It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously allow others to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

Women have the power to live amazing lives.  Now is our time:  the world needs our greatness.   Because when we step into our own greatness, our children and our families will thrive. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Obesity Goes Global

“In 2015, a total of 107.7 million children and 603.7 million adults were obese.  Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity has doubled in more than 70 countries and has continuously increased in most other countries.  Although the prevalence of obesity among children has been lower than that among adults, the rate of increase in childhood obesity in many countries has been greater than the rate of increase in adult obesity.”

                        --“Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 Years,” by The GBD* 2015 Obesity Collaborators, New England Journal of Medicine, June 12, 2017

The present and future health consequences of being overweight or obese as a child are too extreme to ignore.  Google the above article.  It is scary what the future holds for the children of the world, but especially American children, if we collectively fail to act.  

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When I worked exclusively with older adults who had diabetes and obesity, I developed teaching strategies so they “got it” and could easily start making changes that led to improved health outcomes.  However, I kept looking over my shoulder at the rising number of children who were obese, both in the prevalence and incidence reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in my daily observations of children in elementary and middle schools.  My work and life took a dramatic turn with the decision to start a nonprofit organization called “Growing Healthy Kids” in 2009.  It was time to transfer skills learned successfully working with, and coaching, older adults to help children and their families at risk for obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

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Since then…
  • The Growing Healthy Kids Test Kitchen was started to develop delicious and healthy recipes with kids and for kids. 
  • I started the "Wellness Wednesdays" series to educate adults (thank you for reading it). 
  • Writing and publishing books like Nourish and Flourish:  Kid-Tested Tips and Recipes to Prevent Diabetes to give hope to families struggling to help their kids break the cycle of diseases became a priority. 
  • Growing Healthy Kids started partnerships with organizations like Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program to connect with children in an organic way so they can learn about healthy eating and physical fitness while having fun.

Reading the June 2017 New England Journal of Medicine article, “The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 Years” and the article about it initially printed by USA Today was both discouraging and encouraging.  It is evidence of unhealthy trends in how and what we eat, what we feed our children, increasingly sedentary jobs and hobbies, and families’ commitment (or lack of) to take kids outdoors to experience nature.  Each one of us can make a difference in improving the health – and life – of a child. 

photo of a man and two children eating

Not sure what you can do?  Here are 5 things to do with a kid: 
  1. Plant an herb garden. 
  2. Take a walk. 
  3. Learn to swim. 
  4. Set limits on their (and your own) social media/computer time. 
  5. Thank a farmer.

If you have an idea for collaborating on a solution to childhood obesity or know of an organization we should reach out to, please contact us at wellness@growinghealthykids.org.  Looking forward to your ideas! 

Until we are all part of the solution to the childhood obesity epidemic, we are all part of the problem. 

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

*Global Burden of Disease




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: The Power of Walking

“What we learned is that walking just 30 minutes a day can singlehandedly decrease 50% of your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even Alzheimer’s and dementia.  We know that walking is the single most powerful thing that a woman can do for her health, so we knew we were onto something.” 

                                                  --T. Morgan Dixon, CEO of GirlTrek

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I like to watch TED talks several times a week.  It is a cool way to learn about new ideas and interesting people doing good things.  TED (Technology, Education, Design) talks started in 1984 as a conference; the nonprofit foundation’s stated agenda is “to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation.” 

Recently, I watched a TED talk called “Walking as a revolutionary act of self-care” with T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison (May 2017).  Dixon and Garrison started an organization called GirlTrek to encourage and support black women to walk for the health of it.  Dixon was a history teacher in Atlanta who left teaching and partnered with her best friend so they could figure out how to make a difference in the lives – and health – of black women.  They became aware of how the poor health outcomes of black women were largely due to obesity and diabetes.  They also knew that women had the power to heal not only themselves but also their communities, if only they could prioritize their own health.  

While listening to their TED talk, I was reminded of the message I hear every time I fly:  “If you are travelling with small children, put on your own mask first.”

It is time for women to step up and take control of their own health in order to be healers for our families and our communities. We can no longer afford –literally and figuratively - to postpone our own health care.  As women and mothers, we must take care of our own health in order to protect the health of our children.  Reversing the childhood obesity epidemic depends on the health of women.  This is our time and the world is waiting for our greatness. 

For more information about GirlTrek, go to www.girltrek.org.  Let’s empower our children.  The first step is empowering women.  Get ready, get set, walk!

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Building a Culture of Health - and Hope

"Given the downside of all the available drugs, many people with diabetes would prefer not taking medication and wonder if there is an option.  In fact, reversing type 2 diabetes is very possible-if it is not too severe.  Every person with diabetes should focus on a careful diet, one that limits concentrated sweets or sweeteners and is high in fiber and vegetables.  Optimal weight should be the goal, as excess weight and obesity makes control of blood sugar more difficult."
                                                                               
                   --Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., from Mind over Medicine, 2017

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I invest a lot of time teaching kids in afterschool programs.   It is always gratifying, not for the lessons I teach the kids, but for the lessons they teach me. 

The lesson I regularly receive is that kids want real food.   When given a choice and educated about their choices, kids almost always choose the healthy foods.  When kids are allowed to “play” with food and learn to cut, chop and grate things without fear of being judged, they will try new things, contrary to what many parents believe.   By teaching kids to read food labels, how to identify unhealthy ingredients and to choose foods with ingredients that build healthy minds and strong bodies, they learn how to take control of their own health. 

Organic yellow peppers from the Fort Pierce Farmers Market

Unfortunately, many afterschool programs in this country are given free snack foods from their local school districts.  What the kids are given for snacks are simple carbohydrates.  No fresh fruit.  No fresh vegetables.  No whole grains.  No healthy fats like nuts.  No protein like yogurt. Just lots of carbohydrates, lots of added sugars.  These foods feed inflammation of disease and contribute to childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.  
Blackberries make a delicious snack!

Recently I was talking with the children’s director at a homeless shelter, one of Growing Healthy Kids’ partner agencies.  The director shared a story of how kids living at the shelter who attended our Nutrition Scientist program have been teaching younger children there about reading food labels and teaching them to avoid foods high in sugar.  These kids have learned how to make salsas, whole grain quesadillas, vegetable soups, hummus and healthy vinaigrette dressings for green and pasta salads.  These are kids living in a large group home environment for up to 2 years where they have no control over many aspects of their lives due to their parent(s)’ situational poverty. 
Yet these amazing kids living in a homeless shelter have soaked up the lessons from our program, such as reading food labels, using organic vegetables when available, and avoiding processed foods by being given a nonjudgmental place to learn about healthy foods.  These kids are not only gaining control over their lives; they are teaching and inspiring others.  Perhaps we can mitigate stressful living situations by empowering more kids about healing foods and consciously creating a culture of health.  


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Lessons like this that make all our work worthwhile.  Kids, once educated, know that too much sugar is not healthy.  Now it is up to us to ensure that all kids have access to healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and whole grains. 

Please pass the walnuts and a dish of hope.

With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.