Heather Frenette couldn’t figure out why her son had weight issues. He was always eating healthy food," says the Gilbert woman. "And he wasn’t eating large quantities."
Plus, while other kids were watching TV or playing video games, Alexander was riding his bike, in-line skating or playing basketball.
"We didn’t know what we were doing wrong," says Frenette, so the family sought the advice of a nutritionist who specializes in child and family weight issues. Amy Hall of Nutrition Cure in Gilbert has worked with the Frenettes for nearly a year.
Since the Tribune profiled Alexander and his early dietary transitions in January, he has dropped two clothing sizes. He is more active than before, able to outrun friends in a game of football. "His endurance is better, too," says Frenette.
Early on the Frenettes learned that Alexander doesn’t process white flour like other children and needs to limit his carbohydrate servings to four a day. Now those changes are second nature, a part of his life. Alexander’s food knowledge is something his parents believe will stay with him into adulthood.
In the process, mom has learned a few things herself — and dropped four dress sizes.
"I was surprised at how little a portion was," says Frenette, who trained as a nurse. (Half a banana counts as one fruit serving; 10 olives comprise a serving of fat.) The family also was surprised to learn how little changes make a big difference: Switching from ground beef to ground turkey, buying baked chips instead of fried ones, going from 2 percent to fat-free milk.
At a time when American adults are heavier than ever, American kids have been gaining, too. According to a 1999-2002 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics, 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight — up from 11 percent in the 1988-94 survey. Health professionals have warned that obese children are likely to be obese adults. And weight plays a role in heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
"I think one of the problems is that at least some parents don’t see their kids as heavy," says Jeffrey Hampl of the Arizona State University department of nutrition. And food intake isn’t monitored as closely by parents. Combine those realities with the availability of food — much of it high in fat — and diminished physical activity, and you’ve got a young population on the grow.
"Parents can control what they put in their cupboards," says Hampl. "I don’t think it’s about kids getting fruits and vegetables. I think it’s about kids eating too much — too many calories in, and not enough calories out."
Instead of a diet, Hall establishes a healthy eating plan, examines food diaries and addresses portion size. Children are taught how to read labels, and Hall travels with families to the grocery store to show options. Since eating out is a big part of life today, Hall requests restaurant menus and offers suggestions.
"Alexander now knows more than most adults," says Hall. And he’s been sticking to the plan. He even went so far as to create his own healthier version of packaged foods for school. Before long, classmates were asking to him to trade. When that didn’t work, those same classmates started packing their own healthy versions.
"The more exposure kids have to nutrition information, the better," says Hall. "Sometimes all it takes is education."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new food guidelines for children, tailored to age, gender and exercise habits, are at