Just two weeks after First Lady Michelle Obama launched her campaign to combat childhood diabetes, and with Purim parties approaching, the Jewish Educational Center’s Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy Middle School in Elizabeth launched its own healthy lifestyle effort.
On. Feb 22, the school hosted a program featuring Lauren Bernstein, a registered dietician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Rahway.
She discussed the basic points of good nutrition with around 45 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders gathered in the gymnasium.
With two kids of her own, ages 12 and 10, Bernstein knows how little appetite youngsters that age have for advice on eating right. But Bernstein, who lives in Scotch Plains, is also a certified diabetes educator and she knows how painful the consequences of eating wrong can be.
To help the boys catch on, she turned the learning process into — what else? — a ball game. She tossed out big colorful beach balls and whoever caught a ball took on the next question with their team.
Bernstein leads the SHAPEDOWN program for children and adolescents and other “Lighter Lifestyle” courses for adults at Robert Wood Johnson. The hospital has a special collaboration with the JEC, assisting with health-related education at a number of levels.
Talking with NJ Jewish News a few days before the JEC event, she said, “It’s hardly news anymore that Americans are getting too fat. But even with all the attention it’s getting, the number of children between the ages of six and 19 who are overweight or obese has tripled since 1980.”
While the young — and the rest of us — might worry about appearance and self-esteem, there are more serious factors at stake. She said, “The extra poundage significantly increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, many forms of cancer, and gall-bladder disease.”
She cited the following figures from the Institute of Medicine: Children born in the United States in 2000 face a lifetime estimated risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and its complications at about 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls.
Milton Sussman, the JEC’s director of development, said the boys had a great time with Bernstein, and a number of them stayed behind to ask her additional questions. He said more programs developed by Robert Wood Johnson will be offered to other student groups in the future.
But, as important as the schools’ role is, Bernstein said, it’s the parents who hold the key and must be both role models and “gatekeepers.”
“Being a role model means setting the example of eating fruits and veggies and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff as often,” she said. “As ‘gatekeeper’ you are responsible for what your child eats. Be careful what you serve your child. Be sure there are plenty of healthy choices available. Limit eating out and eating on the run. Have home-cooked family meals more often.”
The best results, she said, come when the whole family is involved in improving diet and getting exercise. “Hopefully, as your child grows and starts controlling their own intake, they will have developed good habits and the tools they need for lifelong weight management.”
For more information about the programs for youths and adults Bernstein leads at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Rahway, call 732-499-6109.