Boys and Girls Clubs encouraging healthy choices

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 3, 2012 

— No more soda or candy -- and soon maybe no more sports drinks.

Those are some of the changes that youngsters at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Merced County have seen and might see in the coming months.

"We became familiar with the links between nutrition and education," said Brandie Slaton, an intern at the club. "Then we started looking at healthy foods as we became more aware of the obesity epidemic in the community.

"We evaluated what we were giving our kids and began to start serving healthier foods," Slaton said.

Childhood obesity rates in Merced County fell 1.7 percent from 2005 to 2010, according to a 2011 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

However, the county's childhood obesity rate remains high, with 43.7 percent of children in fifth, seventh and ninth grades being obese or overweight in 2010.

Last year, the club removed soda and candy vending machines. It replaced sodas with sports drinks, but they're now looking to get rid of those beverages as well.

Most recently, it joined with the Merced County Department of Public Health to continue its efforts to try to reverse the high obesity rates in the area.

Tony Slaton, executive director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Merced County, said he hopes the work being done can lead to a healthier community by making people more aware of the choices they have.

Through its partnership with the health department, Slaton is leading a group called "Merced Youth For Health." It is working on a campaign called "Rethink Your Drink," which highlights the amount of sugar in different beverages and encourages residents to chose healthier drinks, Slaton said.

"Our youth group provides nutritional education and teaches other youth how to read labels in order to help them make healthier choices," she said.

Slaton added that the youth group is participating in statewide efforts to promote tobacco-free living, because second-hand smoke is a cause of preventable disease.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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