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U Helps Kids Get on Healthy Track


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Jun 29, 2010 1:00 AM

U Helps Kids Get on Healthy Track


The old adage “you are what you eat” is a poignant way of looking at the country’s looming childhood obesity epidemic. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years—resulting in serious immediate and long-term health consequences. What experts know is that bad eating habits usually begin in childhood, which is why University of Utah Health Care partnered with Kohl’s department stores to get kids on a healthy track.

The Kids’ Healthy Eating Program paired nutrition experts and students from the U with 22 elementary schools across the Salt Lake Valley. The first goal was diet awareness. Last fall, kids received their own kitchen apron, a healthy snack recipe cookbook, crayons, and tips on how to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“It’s amazing how many kids don’t have breakfast in the mornings,” says Cheri Rieben, development officer of the University of Utah Hospital Foundation. “They don’t understand why it’s so important until you tell them why and then give them suggestions about what they should eat.” Simple tips like drinking water instead of soda was news to some of students in Jordan, Granite, Murray, Canyons, and Salt Lake school districts. 

When the University of Utah team returned to the same classrooms in Spring 2010, they found an enthusiastic group of kids. “Once one of the kids started talking about the changes they made, the others would jump in the conversation,” Rieben says. To reach students statewide a Kohl’s Healthy Kids Program Web site,, was launched and funded by the $206,353 grant from the Kohl’s Cares for Kids program to University of Utah Health Care. Kids are invited to submit their own healthy recipes for breakfast, snacks and other meals, and enter to win a Wii Fit video game. 

Overall, Rieben says the results have been very good. The program coincided with school health fairs focusing on better eating and a more active lifestyle. But she also sees another untapped source of change—the parents.

“We need the parents involved, instilling these changes into their daily lives,” Rieben says. Throughout the year, the program will continue to host community events to reach both children and their parents. “These kids are really smart and they get it. They understand what it is they need to do,” Rieben says. “They just need the guidance. We offer one important part of that, but families can offer another, and in the end that will help kids a lot.”

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