Experts Encourage Better Health Options for Children During the Pandemic

Photo by Justice Page From left to right. Dr. Tami Singleton, Stephenie Marshall, Dr. Alisha Reed and Dr. Vyoone Segue Lewis discuss steps to take to improve children's health during the pandemic on February 18th for the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce Straight Talk Series.

Justice Page Data News Weekly Contributor

The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected overall health in many aspects. While the focus has been on adults, children are facing extreme physical challenges as well. Attending school virtually has limited social interaction and engagement, along with physical activity. Experts are concerned that less exercise and unhealthy food consumption is on the rise for children.

“At least 60-percent of youth and about 50-percent of adults consume one sugary beverage every day,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the Director of the New Orleans Health Department. Sugary beverages are one of the highest leading sources of added sugars into the nation’s diet, Avegno explained. “That in some cases for kids, is 10-percent of their caloric recommended intake,” Avegno said.

Local physicians and health professionals who spoke at the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce (NORBCC) Straight Talk Series Webinar on Feb. 18th said the pandemic has worsened this impact on children’s health.

“It is important for the future of our children to maintain a healthy lifestyle and that they start young” said LaVerne Toombs, the Executive Director of the Black Chamber.

American culture heavily markets unhealthy food choices to families. Individuals have developed chronic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, which ultimately leads to early mortality. Children model the actions of the adults in their lives, said Dr. Tami Singleton, the Chief of Pediatric Hematology with LSU Health in New Orleans.

“We have an obesity crisis or epidemic in the United States,” Singleton said. “We have a crisis in terms of our children having adult-like diseases, even when they are as young as 9 or 10 years old with diabetes.”

For parents with young children, they may find it difficult changing their beverage preferences, said Dr. Alisha Reed, a Pharmacist, Wellness Advocate, and mother to a young son. Reed said it was also challenging at first providing drinks other than soda and juice to her son in order to get him out of the habit for solely asking for sugary drinks. She explained the importance of alternative options she provides for him.

“I purchase flavored waters. I give him a choice,” Reed said. “He chooses between two things that are good for him. You either choose the water or you choose the flavored water.”

She also serves him infused waters. “Kids love to see the fruits in the water, it gives them that flavor and makes them think that they are drinking something else other than water,” she said. Reed added that she has found that setting herself as a role model makes her son want to follow the actions, she is partaking in.

“If he sees me drinking water this will make him want to drink water. Setting this example for him, and letting him know about other alternatives has helped,” Reed said.

Families partake in certain health choices due to what is a part of their routine and the resources that surround them. If a child’s community consists of fast-food restaurants and corner stores, it is less likely they will eat healthy and consume the proper nutrients necessary, the health experts said. It is important that restaurants are providing healthier options for kids on their menus, said Dr. Vyoone Segue Lewis, the local restaurant owner of Vyoone’s, who said she strives to focus on making her food options healthy for the community.

“Many restaurants in New Orleans are community advocates, we make a lot of effort around that,” Segue Lewis said.

“Even with our kid’s menu, we don’t have a lot of fried foods. We try to be conscious about the choices that we offer in terms of kid’s menus. Not just with the sugar content, but fats as well,” Lewis said.

In order to see changes with our children’s health, parents must be more aware of and monitor the foods and drinks kids are consuming, said Stephenie Marshall, a Registered Dietician, a Licensed Nutritionist, and the Executive Director of the Ascension DePaul Community Health Center.

“We have got to come to grips that we are in a different day and time where we have more children with hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to do better in the options that we’re offering them,” she added.

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