(Don't) Supersize Me: Museum Offers Portion-Size Workshop

Hands-on learning helps fight childhood obesity

A group of children attending a workshop on healthy portion sizes this week was given paper plates and art supplies and told to compose a meal of pretend food.

Half of each plate was supposed to be devoted to fruits and vegetables, one-quarter to protein and one-quarter to starch.

But it wasn't easy -- the kids had trouble thinking of a vegetable they liked.

"I'm used to eating potato chips and stuff like that," said Cristina Carbonell, 10. "I want to stop but it's so hard."

The workshop was a project of the Children's Museum of Manhattan, which was recognized with an award last month from the U.S. surgeon general's office for its work combating childhood obesity.

Previously the children's museum has tackled health issues through interactive exhibits like "Body Odyssey," which led kids on a tour through giant bowels and blood vessels.

Executive Director Andrew Ackerman said museum officials have been concerned about childhood obesity since before it was recognized as a public health crisis.

"We see families and kids every day," Ackerman said. "In the late '90s we began to notice that the kids who were coming into the museum were heavy. And it was noticeable."

Another demonstration looked like movie night at the three bears' house -- a big bowl of popcorn, a medium-sized bowl of popcorn and a small bowl of popcorn. Which bowl had the most?

The children thought the small bowl had the most because it was full. But when workshop leader Zach Tutlane emptied each bowl into a measuring cup, they could see that all three had the same amount -- four cups.

"The bowl or the container or the plate or whatever it is that we eat off of or eat from, it really affects the portion size of what we eat," Tutlane said.

According to the surgeon general's office, 12.5 million American children are overweight or obese. Overweight children are at greater risk for serious health problems including heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Ileana Serrano, the pediatrician at the Downtown Health Center, where the workshop was held, said she invited museum staffers to present their nutrition workshop because she thought her patients needed it.

"My goal is to bring an obesity program to the clinic here because a large percentage of my patients are overweight or obese," she said.

Serrano said that both kids and parents need instruction about portion sizes.

"Our concept of portion size has been completely distorted in recent years, in terms of how fast-food restaurants have things supersized, and just American culture in general," she said.

"I think we just tend to have big plates, pile everything on the plates, try to get as much as we can for the money, and I think that message just permeates adults' and children's meals."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us