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Providing public education on the role of diet, lifestyle, and micronutrients in promoting optimum health, preventing disease, and increasing healthspan has been a major commitment of the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) since its inception at Oregon State University in 1996. As part of LPI’s public outreach, the Healthy Youth Program was founded in 2009. Our goal is to educate children (preschool through grade 12) and families through evidence-based and hands-on activities. Our vision is for a community of healthy, happy and active children and families.
The Healthy Youth Program is a wellness and healthy lifestyle program. For us, wellness and a healthy lifestyle include physical, mental, and social well-being. It is our goal to help children and families improve their dietary intake and increase their level of physical activity. In addition, a central focus of our programs are family and peer relationships and interactions. We believe that children and families don’t live in a vacuum – children are part of families and families are part of communities. Therefore, it is important for us to support children and their families to develop healthy family and peer relationships and to grow as individuals to reach their full potential.
Healthy dietary choices and lifestyle habits help youth and families maintain a healthy body weight, reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease later in life, and attain optimum health. However, we cannot achieve optimum health if we are not providing the right nutrients in the right amounts to our body. Many families consume large quantities of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods high in macronutrients like fat, proteins, and carbohydrates, but lacking many of the vitamins and nutritionally-essential minerals (micronutrients) needed on a daily basis. They may satisfy their overt hunger by eating macronutrients, but don’t satisfy their body’s need for vitamins and minerals to function at its best. Failing to provide the body with the much-needed vitamins and minerals may lead to micronutrient inadequacies or hiddenhunger. The symptoms of hidden hunger are often not obvious, but they prevent our bodies from functioning at an optimum level. Micronutrient inadequacies may cause inefficient energy metabolism or poor immune function, resulting in lack of energy or fatigue and increased susceptibility to a cold or the flu. Therefore, teaching youth and their families about the importance of eating foods rich in micronutrients is a major focus of all our nutrition education programs.
According to data from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 32 percent of 2 to 19 year-old children are overweight or obese (23 million children) and 17 percent are obese (12 million children).
Most experts agree that overconsumption of calories and physical inactivity are the main contributing factors to the obesity problem. There is a widespread need to promote better eating habits among America’s children. There is no quick fix to address this problem, but “if we don’t reverse the epidemic, the current generation of young people could be the first in U.S. history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation” (F as in Fat: 2012 Report, Trust for America’s Health[PDF]). Research shows that a strategy of primary prevention can help improve children’s health and reduce health care costs, and is a realistic and achievable goal “if there is a sufficient investment in effective programs and policies” (F as in Fat: 2012 Report, Trust for America’s Health[PDF]).