RUMFORD — Nearly 300 students at Rumford Elementary School clapped and cheered during an anti-obesity program focused on healthy eating and exercise Tuesday afternoon.
FoodPlay is a national, award-winning school assembly program that brings the power of live theater, feats of juggling, captivating characters, motivating messages, music, magic and audience participation to turn children on to healthy eating and active lifestyles, according to its website.
The program is being presented at dozens of schools throughout the Northeast in response to a growing childhood obesity epidemic.
Linda Tardif and Jordon Phillips of Massachusetts described and demonstrated the benefits of eating lots of vegetables and fruits, and avoiding sugar-laden sodas and processed foods.
“How many of you eat?” Tardif asked.
The students laughed and raised their hands.
“There are over 300,000 different food products now, and lots of them are made in factories,” Tardif said. Eating an apple is so much better than eating an apple pie that is full of sugar and fat, she said.
“Eating sugars and salts tires you out,” Tardif said.
Phillips went through the moves of having no energy as he portrayed practicing for a juggling competition.
“Some foods build us up. They are the go-to foods. Some let us down. They are the woe foods,” Tardif said. “You kids are getting bombarded with 10,000 ads a year to buy woe foods.”
She said students consume an average of 600 cans of soda a year, each containing 10 teaspoons of sugar. Maybe the ingredients in sports drinks and other processed foods aren’t listed as sugar, she said, but they are high in fructose corn syrup, which is the same thing.
Tardif said people can make their own sodas with seltzer water and flavorings.
“The body’s favorite is water, low-fat milk and fruit juice,” she said.
Tardif and Phillips encouraged students to exercise more and the students joined with them in doing jumping jacks.
“You can also take a walk with your family after dinner, play sports, jump rope, do yoga, and have fun at recess,” Tardif said.
Other messages included eating at least five fruits and/or vegetables a day, reading food labels, eating three meals a day and telling yourself you can succeed at what you attempt.
“You need to feed your body a healthy message,” she said.
The 45-minute presentation at Rumford Elementary School was sponsored by the local Hannaford supermarket.
FoodPlay will be presented in 10 Maine schools this spring.