The news of the day is that we are headed toward an obesity rate of 42 percent by 2030. We can't afford to go there! So perhaps it's time to recall that the best way to predict the future... is to create it. We need to create a different future than this -- and that means fixing what's broken.
Gertrude Stein famously said "A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference." I'm with her! And for that reason, I tend to spend a lot more of my time -- and focus a lot more of my effort and attention -- to where the rubber hits the road than to the ivory tower.
When it comes to nutrition and the monumental influence it has on our health, the rubber hits the road wherever people and food come together. Kitchens and cafeterias. Schools and workplaces. Supermarkets and restaurants.
I like to think I am making some contributions there; I am certainly trying. But today, I am delighted to acknowledge some of the excellent work being done to engage with restaurants and promote healthy eating there, courtesy of my friends at Healthy Dining.
Healthy Dining is a California-based organization comprised of a team of registered dietitians and master's-level health, nutrition and communications professionals. The team works with restaurants nationwide, spanning fast food to fine dining, to help promote greater selections of calorically-balanced menu choices emphasizing lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and unsaturated fats. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Small Business Innovative Research program, Healthy Dining developed an ehealth tool representing a one-of-a-kind restaurant nutrition search engine, HealthyDiningFinder.com.
HealthyDiningFinder.com includes more than 350 restaurants, representing tens of thousands of locations nationwide, that partner with Healthy Dining to offer their customers a selection of Healthy Dining-approved menu choices and nutrition information. The restaurants, qualifying menu choices and corresponding nutrition information are all accessible by typing in your zip code to find the participating restaurants near you.
I especially like the idea of a busy parent wanting to take his or her kids out for a quick meal -- but also wanting some basic level of nutrition. HealthyDiningFinder.com allows for quick, easy reconnaissance in advance, so you and the kids can set out confident both that you will love the meal, and that it will love you back.
The website offers a search for "Sodium Savvy" menu choices that meet the Healthy Dining guidelines and also have 750 mg or less of sodium for the full restaurant meal. This list of "Sodium Savvy" Healthy Dining choices is growing as more restaurants are finding ways to reduce sodium in their recipes.
Along with its search functions, the site offers expert guidance, articles, recipes and tips to help visitors make healthier choices when eating away from home. An article on the health benefits of Indian cuisine and another on the health benefits of eating garlic are illustrative. The site also has an "Ask the RD" (registered dietitian) column that offers expert advice on hard-to-find answers related to dining out.
This week, Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association are making news together as they announce the expansion of their Kids LiveWell platform. This program extends the Healthy Dining approach to kids' meals specifically, making it even easier for parents to find healthier choices for their children. Kids LiveWell was launched in the summer of 2011, and has already quadrupled in size; it now includes more than 90 restaurant companies representing 25,000 locations nationwide.
All of the kids' choices meet specific nutrition criteria with the emphasis again on lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy and unsaturated fats.
All of Healthy Dining's efforts engage with the National Restaurant Association, whose members own the real estate in question. The NRA educates its member restaurants on the importance of joining together as an industry to contribute to a healthier America (you're either part of the solution, or part of the problem...) and the reversal of the childhood obesity epidemic. Healthy Dining's team of registered dietitians works with restaurants that join the program to identify and validate the menu choices that meet the Kids LiveWell criteria. Parents can find the participating restaurants, along with their qualifying menu choices and nutrition information, on HealthyDiningFinder.com. This results in good guidance for parents, better opportunities for kids to choose food that is both good and good for them, and a chance for thousands of restaurants to get credit they deserve for being part of the solution. Everybody wins.
The Healthy Dining team is well aware that we have miles to go before health lies along a path of lesser resistance for all of us. They keep doing all they can to help us get there.
They have initiated a statewide health initiative with Mississippi, which has the highest obesity rate in the country, and the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association (MHRA) called "Eat Healthy Mississippi." This program is designed to bring together local growers and restaurants so that chefs can incorporate locally-grown produce and fruits into healthier recipes at restaurants throughout the state. Participating restaurants of the Eat Healthy Mississippi program will be featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com.
Especially promising is a new "Healthy Dining School Wellness Rewards Program." This program, in its pilot phase in San Diego, aims to raise money through Healthy Dining's restaurant partners to help schools fund much-needed playground and P.E. equipment, garden programs, nutrition education and other wellness initiatives. Healthy Dining was awarded funding for the pilot by the CDC.
What matters is what makes a difference. Good ideas are a start -- but they have to see daylight. That tends to be all about sleeves rolled up, hands in the dirt, getting-it-done action, where the rubber hits the road -- or the fork hits the fennel. It means engaging with those who own the real estate in question.
Healthy Dining -- with the NRA's assistance -- is putting good ideas to work for millions of diners. And thereby -- making a difference.
I'm sure Gertrude Stein would join me in saying thank you, and well done.
Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com
Disclaimer: Dr. Katz has served as an adviser to HealthyDining with regard to nutrition criteria, but has NO financial interest in the company or its products.
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