By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Patrick House, a native Mississippian and winner of the 10th season of the reality television show “The Biggest Loser,” was in Starkville Wednesday speaking to area school children about the importance of eating right, being active and treating their fellow classmates with respect. House tours the United States, Canada and Mexico promoting health and wellness, and was in Starkville helping out the Miss. State Medical Association Alliance with its LEAN ON ME program, which stands for “Learn, Eradicate, Advocate, Nullify Obesity Now in Mississippi’s Educational System.”
According to the Miss. Medical Alliance website, LEAN ON ME is an initiative developed in partnership with the Miss. State Medical Association Alliance and House. LEAN ON ME is a program which targets elementary school children in Mississippi with a message of making healthier choices based on nutrition, exercise and in relationships with fellow students. It contains an anti-bullying message as well as a teaching component which embraces the new food plate diagram suggested by the federal government to replace the old food pyramid. House encourages students to include everyone in their activities and games while never shunning a child who might be an easy target due to his or her weight.
Part of House’s challenge to young people is to join his Green Team, which is the color of the shirt House was assigned while competing on “The Biggest Loser.” House told kids at Armstrong Middle School and Starkville Academy in order to join his team, they must pledge to make healthier food choices, to be more physically active and to promise not to bully or tease kids who have a weight problem.
“I want every one of you to take one of my green bracelets and put them on,” House said. “When you go home tonight, and a member of your family asks you why you’re wearing it, I want you to tell them you met the biggest loser in Mississippi today. When they ask you what you mean by that, I want you to tell them what we’ve talked about today.”
House told the kids at each school he heard from other children around the country that the first thing they do in the morning is reach for a 20 ounce soft drink.
“Kids have told me their parents drink coffee to wake up, and they don’t like coffee so they usually grab a Coke or a Dr. Pepper to get themselves going in the morning,” House said. “You know how many tablespoons of sugar are in a 20 ounce soft drink? Seventeen tablespoons. So if you’re one of those kids that drinks that soft drink every morning, tomorrow why don’t you try just eating 17 tablespoons of sugar instead? Doesn’t sound very good, does it?”
House, who weighed 420 pounds before he was chosen to compete on “The Biggest Loser,” said he is tired of his home state being the rated as the most obese in the nation and feels he has to do his part to inspire change.
“It all starts at home,” House said. “Trust me, I was not a good example for my kids before I went to ‘The Biggest Loser,’ but while I was there, my wife started making the changes at home. When I got home, we all started eating healthier as a family.”
House said he realizes it can be a difficult transition for parents to nix fast food and offer healthier food choices to kids.
“I have two kids, and trust me, it wasn’t like we all of a sudden put a piece of grilled fish in front of them and they started eating it,” House said. “But the one thing about kids is when they’re hungry, they’re going to eat. If one of my kids is in a mood and saying they won’t eat something, then they don’t have to eat it. It’s still what we’re having for dinner, though. So a parent fixes grilled chicken and broccoli for dinner and the kids say they don’t want to eat it –– should the parent stand strong or should they just let the child win because they threw a fit?”
House said it’s all about who makes the decisions in a household, the parents or the kids.
“In my house, we kept offering the kids healthy meals, and when they got hungry they ate them,” House said. “After a while, they found they liked the healthy choices better. Now when we go out to eat and the waiter asks my kids what they want, they ask for grilled chicken or fish. When the waiter asks if they want fries or broccoli, my kids choose broccoli. Believe me, it shocked me the first time I heard them say it, too. But if it’s what they eat at home then they’ll make the same choices when they’re away from home. What better way is there to show your kids you love them than to teach them to eat healthy so they can feel good and live a long, healthy life?”
Starkville Academy Principal Cherie Maynard said the obesity epidemic among children in Mississippi is a horrible thing for any child to deal with.
“I think kids need more age-appropriate exercise and some guidance in better eating habits,” Maynard said. “Through classroom discussions of healthy eating and the science curriculum, we hope to educate the children.”
Maynard said she thought children’s self-esteem suffers when they are overweight, and it may not always be their fault.
“It’s not just about the choices the children make, but also about the choices the parents make for them,” Maynard said.
Maynard said she was happy to have House there to encourage the children and she hoped it would be a message the children would carry home with them.
“I think educating the children will help each of them go home and talk to their parents about what they’ve learned today about making healthy choices,” Maynard said.
For more information about the LEAN ON ME program, visit http://www.msmedicalalliance.webs.com .