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Fresh From Florida Kids To Help

Infants And Toddlers Develop Healthy Eating Habits
by Terence McElroy
February 24, 2008

Program provides educational materials and tools to new mothers

Cookbooks designed to help mothers incorporate healthy foods into children’s diets have been increasingly popular over the last year. Several popular releases have featured sneaky and deceptive ways to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables. But a new program unveiled today by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is intended to teach toddlers healthy eating habits before parents have to trick them later in life.

The “Fresh From Florida Kids” program teaches mothers of children under age three how to quickly and easily prepare healthy baby foods at home using fresh fruits and vegetables. Introducing these fresh, healthy foods at an early age can help infants and toddlers develop a preference for them -- instead of sweet or salty processed foods that can lead to health problems later in life.

“Studies have shown that taste preferences and eating habits are developed by the time a child is three,” Bronson said. “That’s why it is so important to instill healthy eating habits in children as early as possible. A healthy start will help them avoid many health risks later in life -- such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes -- that are associated with poor eating habits.”

Mothers will be recruited for participation in the program through Healthy Start Coalitions in five regions of the state. A total of 3,000 participants will receive a kit containing health and nutrition information, recipes and instructions on how to prepare healthy foods for their child and family, a food grinder, bib, storage container and freezer tray. In addition, Publix will provide those participants with incentives for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Healthy Start is honored and delighted to be a part of the ‘Fresh From Florida Kids’ project,” said Christine Dreps, director of community relations for the Capitol Area Healthy Start Coalition. “We now have a way to show our families how to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the children at an early age. It is one thing to tell new moms how important proper nutrition is, but being able to provide the tools, ideas and practical knowledge makes all the difference.”

“We are proud to be the exclusive supermarket of the ‘Fresh From Florida Kids’ program,” said Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations. “As a retailer committed to being the supermarket of choice for parents and families, Publix aligns ourselves with nutritional programs that educate, encourage and foster healthy eating habits in children. ‘Fresh From Florida Kids’ complements our Publix Preschool Pals program for toddlers age 2 to 5.”

The “Fresh From Florida Kids” program is divided into three phases over 2 1/2 years. Each phase represents specific developmental periods in a child’s eating behavior. At the end of each phase, parents will fill out a questionnaire describing their child’s and family’s eating habits. This information will allow for evaluation of the program’s success. In exchange for completed surveys, parents will receive a new information packet along with incentives to encourage continued participation.

“Parents are essentially the prime influence over their child’s nutrition and development,” Bronson said. “Until a child reaches maturity, it is the parents who determine what foods will be eaten and kept as staples in the household. This program shows mothers how to introduce their child to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables so that healthy eating becomes the norm and not the exception. If children grow up enjoying healthy foods from the start, parents won’t have to resort to tricking or coercing them to eat healthy foods later on.”

A web site -- www.FreshFromFloridaKids.com -- contains all of the program’s educational materials and updates and will help facilitate communication and involvement. Anyone can access the web site and benefit from the online recipes, cooking and storage tips, and nutritional information.

Following the initial rollout in Tallahassee, the program will recruit a total of 3,000 participants throughout the coming months in Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Bronson hopes the program will help reverse the rising number of obese children and adults as healthy eating habits replace poor ones early in life.

“Many of the unhealthy eating habits of today’s adults were developed in early childhood,” Bronson said. “Infants and young children who are exposed primarily to processed foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat often favor these types of foods as they grow older. A diet of unhealthy foods can lead to severe health problems later in life.”

It is estimated that one in five children may be obese by 2010. Currently, 26 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are at risk of becoming overweight. Nearly 11 percent of high school students are overweight, and an additional 14.4 percent are at risk for being overweight. Only 26.2 percent of Florida adults eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, while only 21.9 percent of high school students and 22.0 percent of middle school students reported eating the recommended amount. Obesity-related medical expenditures for adults in Florida total over $3.9 billion, with over half of the costs financed by Medicare and Medicaid.

As part of its ongoing “Fresh From Florida” program, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services promotes the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the development of healthy eating habits through a variety of educational, informational and marketing initiatives. For more information, visit www.Florida-Agriculture.com.

Healthy Start Coalitions are non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the health of pregnant women and babies in a community. The state’s 33 coalitions are partnerships made up of local public and private medical professionals, hospitals, schools, charities, social services agencies, the United Way, the March of Dimes and individuals. Healthy Start works to reduce infant mortality and the number of low-birth-weight babies, and promotes optimal prenatal health and developmental outcomes for all pregnant women and babies in Florida. For more information, visit www.HealthyStartFlorida.com.

Publix is privately owned and operated by its 148,000 employees, with 2006 sales of $21.7 billion. Currently, Publix has 926 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. The company has been named one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” for 10 consecutive years. In addition, Publix’s dedication to superior quality and customer service is recognized as tops in the grocery business, most recently by an American Customer Satisfaction Index survey. For more information, visit www.publix.com.

Email: mcelrot@doacs.state.fl.us
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