By William Croyle
SOUTHGATE - Nine-year-old Tyler Bowman had a glass of fruit juice and some pickles for breakfast Monday morning. It's an odd combination, but it was two servings down and three to go in his "5 A Day for Better Health" challenge.
"You should eat a lot of fruits and vegetables so you can stay healthy," said Tyler. "If you don't, your teeth will rot out and all that stuff."
Tyler was one of about 45 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students at Southgate Elementary School who accepted the week-long challenge Monday to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day - the minimum number of daily servings recommended.
The students listened to a presentation from a team of dieticians and health educators from the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, and were entertained by Produce Man - a character with 135 servings of fruits and vegetables on his body.
This is the second year for the challenge that is taking place in 22 elementary schools across Northern Kentucky. That's up from 12 schools last year.
"We want to make them aware of the importance of fruits and vegetables," said Laure Murray, nutrition manager for the health department. "It's a positive program. We encourage them to eat, not 'don't eat this' or 'don't drink that.'"
Kids track their servings each day through Sunday. Those who complete the challenge will receive passes to Town & Country Sports Complex in Wilder and be eligible for other prizesThe school with the most participants will earn $1,000.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average 6- to 11-year-old eats only 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and less than 15 percent eat the recommended amount of five or more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 20.2 percent of all Kentuckians eat five or more servings a day, ranking the state 42nd nationally.
"It's absolutely a problem," said Christine Filardo, director of communications for the Produce for Better Health Foundation. "Only one quarter of infants and toddlers (nationally) get enough."
Filardo also said that nationally, only one quarter of adults meet the five-serving minimum of fruits and vegetables, which may explain why children don't do it. "One of the strongest motivators for a child is what they see others do," Filardo said.
While many will find the program challenging, it shouldn't be too difficult for 9-year-old Morgan Stockslager. Though she won't touch broccoli or spinach, she loves carrots and apples. In fact, when she gets home from school each day, she eats a salad as a snack.
"It's good to eat fruits and vegetables so you can keep healthy and live longer," said Morgan.
What is a serving?
One medium-size fruit
3/4 cup (6 oz) of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice
1/2 cup cooked, frozen or canned fruit or vegetable
One cup of raw, leafy vegetables
1/2 cup cooked dry peas or beans
1/4 cup dried fruit
Source: Produce for Better Health Foundation
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