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By Candi Possinger

Two recent developments are helping to emphasize the need for proper nutrition from an early age and its associated long-term health benefits, and showing signs that the message is beginning to resonate.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that obesity rates among children ages 2 to 5 dropped by 43 percent from 2003 to 2012. There have been concerted efforts in that time to educate the public and encourage better nutritional choices, including the new school lunch guidelines, a decrease in sweetened beverages in schools and heightened attention brought to this issue by government, educational and media.

Reaching children and families with important nutritional messages cannot start early enough. Research suggests that children begin to adopt food preferences and health habits as young as 18-24 months old. Those habits can follow them for the rest of their lives, so it is important to establish strong nutritional and physical activity patterns early in a child’s development.

While rates among young children were encouraging, obesity rates among other age groups remained relatively flat. As a nation, we continue to be overfed and undernourished. Obesity is a significant source of health care spending. Studies have shown that $100 billion is spent annually on obesity and medical-related costs. Children and adults who are overweight and obese are at higher risk for serious health problems, including chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Following on the heels of the CDC report, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was reviewing the first significant changes to food labels in decades. The proposed changes include listing calorie counts more prominently, listing added sugars and creating a dual per-serving and per-container label. These changes could be a major stride in raising awareness of people’s true consumption of calories and other nutrients. We need to remember that weight management comes down to calories in vs. calories out.

Education begins with information. On a local level, Catholic Medical Partners has committed itself to providing patients the information, resources and support to make a difference in their daily lives. A team of registered dietitian nutritionists works with more than 45 local medical practices, including pediatric and adult practices, to educate patients on proper nutrition and to engage them in effective care plans that will help them reap the long-term rewards from the nutritional decisions they make today.

By making better-informed decisions regarding food consumption, nutrition and exercise, we can establish a foundation for a healthier life, healthier families and a healthier community.

Candi Possinger is manager of nutritional services for Catholic Medical Partners.