Americans Urged to “Upgrade” Family Meals and Activities to Reduce Calories Kids Consume

Survey Finds Parents Are Not Taking Steps to Improve Their Children’s Weight Status

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Citing new evidence that many parents lack the information to prevent obesity in their children, Shape Up America! and National Turkey Federation (NTF) today announced a national mobilization to help First Lady Michelle Obama fight childhood obesity by arming parents with the facts and tools to make simple changes – or “upgrades” – in favorite meals and physical activity levels so everyone can reap the benefits of taking in less calories.

Coming at a time when more than 12 million children in the United States are classified as obese and more than 23 million young Americans are considered overweight, the organizations are stepping up their efforts to show parents how they can improve their children’s weight status using an online tool called the Meal Upgrade Calculator. Besides showing consumers how to “upgrade” favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, this interactive website now gives parents the means to assess the weight status of their children and reduce the calories and fat consumed in meals served at school and in restaurants. Another new feature is the Family Activity Calculator, which shows parents how to increase the time children spend being physically active.

While there is no single approach to fighting childhood obesity, Shape Up America! estimates that by taking advantage of these meal and activity “upgrades,” families can save an average of 100 calories a day through improvements to family meals and another 100 calories through increased physical activity – or 200 fewer calories a day. These savings are significant and demonstrate that small changes in meal preparation and increased physical activity can pay off in meaningful health improvements.

 “When it comes to healthier eating and moving more, small changes add up to both weight control and measurable health improvements,” said Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D., Shape Up America! president and CEO. “That is the purpose of these new features to our Meal Upgrade Calculator – to show consumers and especially busy moms how to make simple ‘upgrades’ in children’s meals and activities that will keep them at a healthy weight and instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”

Extensions to the Meal Upgrade Calculator Give Parents the Tools to Fight Childhood Obesity

After introducing the Meal Upgrade Calculator to consumers and the nutrition community in 2010, Shape Up America! and NTF commissioned a new survey in 2011 that finds many parents are not equipped to assess their children’s weight status and lack the information to improve the meals children eat outside the home. In response, the organizations added new extensions to the calculator that allow consumers to make a number of “upgrades” to school and restaurant meal selections, including choosing meals made with turkey, which is nutrient-rich, low in fat and calories, and is considered an excellent protein source.

“The calculator is a way to show consumers what we in the nutrition community have always known – that turkey is a positive and simple step consumers can take to ‘upgrade’ the family diet,” said Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., RD, NTF senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs. “Not only is turkey rich in nutrients, but it comes in a variety of cuts and products that can be incorporated into any meal. Think about all the foods most loved by children – hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. All can be ‘upgraded’ with turkey to deliver fewer calories and fat without sacrificing taste.”

Along with new tools to improve children’s meals, the calculator features information to help parents recognize overweight in their children and a new Family Activity Calculator that allows parents to select a favorite family activity – from taking a walk to playing tag or jumping rope – and then calculates the number of minutes it will take to burn an extra 100 calories.

Survey Findings Are a Wake-Up Call for the Health Community: Parents Are Not Taking Steps to Improve Their Children’s Weight Status

The extensions to the Meal Upgrade Calculator are the result of a new survey that examines the attitudes and actions of 500 mothers with children between the ages of 6 years and 16 years and calculates the Body Mass Index (BMI) of their youngest child. Conducted in March 2011 by ORC International (ORC), this online survey provides an important wakeup call for the nation: although 34 percent of the children assessed in this study meet the criteria for overweight or obesity, more than three-quarters (76%) of their mothers don’t recognize this fact and are not taking simple steps to improve their children’s weight status.

But what is especially disturbing, according to the ORC research, is that mothers are operating under a false sense of security that their children are getting enough daily physical activity and significantly underestimate the time their children spend being sedentary. Only one in four of the moms polled think their youngest child spends too much time watching television and DVDs (26%) or spends too much time playing on the computer (24%), although it is estimated the average American child spends more than 7.5 hours a day watching TV and movies, using cell phones and computers for entertainment, and playing video games.

At the same time, the survey uncovers a number of barriers that make it more difficult for moms to reduce the fat and calories in family meals. When asked “what is the biggest obstacle you face when serving your family more nutritious foods,” 39 percent of the moms surveyed cite having children who are picky eaters and only like certain foods, while one in four say serving more nutritious meals “takes a lot more time to prepare” (26%) or requires ingredients that are “often more expensive” (25%).

Moreover, the survey finds that few parents are using new tools, like calorie information on restaurant menus, when taking the family out to eat. According to the survey, only 23 percent of the moms say they look for calorie information on restaurant menus while another 21 percent say they are not able to find this information in the restaurants they frequent. However, the poll uncovers an under-recognized opportunity for parents to improve the nutritional quality of the lunches their children eat at school. According to the ORC survey, almost half of the moms (44%) regularly pack their child’s school lunch, which is why Shape Up America! and NTF added new features to the Meal Upgrade Calculator with information on how to “upgrade” school lunches.

The Meal Upgrade Calculator is available on the websites of both organizations at and

About Shape Up America!

Shape Up America! was founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness of the health effects of obesity and to educate the public, health professionals and policymakers on proven ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The organization maintains an award-winning website – – accessed by more than 100,000 visitors each month.

About the National Turkey Federation

Headquartered in Washington, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) is the leading information source for the $14 billion turkey industry and its wholesome, high-quality, nutritious products. Through its comprehensive website – – NTF provides consumers, food professionals and the media an extensive library of information including healthy eating and restaurant trends, turkey cuts and purchasing tips, turkey nutrition, cooking techniques, and turkey facts and trivia. Additionally, the site presents a searchable database of more than 1,800 recipes and provides special seasonal and holiday ideas.


Media Contacts:

Sherrie Rosenblatt
National Turkey Federation
202-898-0100, ext 7227

Jennifer Crawford
Shape Up America!