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Lowering obesity and improving health - one vegetable at a time

Sara Sloan, nutrition consultant with Oregon's WIC program
Gayle Wilson, Multnomah County nutrition assistant teaches woman and their children about eating a "rainbow of fruits and vegetables" through the Oregon WIC program to promote lifelong healthy eating.

More than one in five Oregon children are overweight or obese. Nationally, the proportion of overweight and obese kids has tripled over the past 20 years. Overweight children grow into overweight adults. Today more than 62 percent of adults in Oregon are overweight or obese.

People who are overweight or obese can face diabetes, heart conditions, stroke, high blood pressure, even psychological problems. Obesity is also the second leading cause of preventable death and costs Oregon an estimated $781 million per year in medical costs. As much as 80 percent of health care costs are for chronic conditions that could have been helped or avoided with prevention.

An important tool for health is OHA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC.

WIC works to improve health through good nutrition — and stop obesity before it starts — through nutrition classes, one-on-one coaching and vouchers for healthy foods.

"When parents have the right information about fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, they can start their children on a lifetime of good eating and help them avoid the diseases that come with obesity," said Sara Sloan, nutrition consultant with Oregon's WIC program.

Parents agree this kind of education is important. Of the 177,724 Oregon women, infants and children who participate in WIC, most take part in the nutrition classes.

Giovanna Gonzalez, who has a 3-year-old son, recently attended such a class one evening with about 15 other mothers and young children. There she learned to introduce healthy foods to picky eaters and how to prepare and store food for more vitamin content.

"I like these classes because I get information so that I can make good choices in the foods for my child and my health. I learned today about antioxidants and why they are good for us," said Gonzalez.