At a time when a third of America’s youth is overweight or obese, two organizations are taking steps to show consumers how to upgrade favorite meals so families can reap the benefits of consuming less fat and calories.

At a news briefing in New York last week, Shape Up America! and National Turkey Federation (NTF) launched Simple Steps to Upgrade Your Diet, a public education campaign about making small changes in meal preparation to improve the family diet.

Developed in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to fight childhood obesity, the campaign features the Meal Upgrade Calculator, an online tool that shows consumers how to upgrade favorite family meals by changing the type of meat and poultry, the side dishes and even the condiments to decrease the amount of fat and calories in breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Based on new research from Shape Up America!, the savings from using the calculator are significant and demonstrate that small changes in meal preparation can pay off in meaningful health improvements.

For example, using the calculator just to change the meat to turkey in a family meal nets an average savings of 108 calories per eating occasion. Put into perspective, two studies published in the July/August 2009 American Journal of Health Promotion estimate that a permanent 100 calorie a day reduction would eliminate approximately 71.2 million cases of overweight/obesity and save $58 billion annually in medical expenses to yield an estimated boost in economic productivity of more than $100 billion annually.

“The message from the First Lady and all leading public health officials is that all of us have a role to play in preventing childhood obesity, starting in our own homes. And that is the reason for this new campaign – to give consumers the tools to make simple upgrade in meal preparation that will reduce the calories and fat in the family diet,” says Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D., Shape Up America! president
and CEO.

Shape Up America! and NTF developed the Meal Upgrade Calculator to help Americans make smarter choices when preparing family meals. Featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner options, the calculator allows consumers to choose a number of possible upgrades, starting by changing the meat to turkey, which is nutrient-rich, low in fat and calories and is considered an excellent protein source.

“The calculator brings to life what we in the nutrition community have always known – that turkey is a positive and simple step consumers can take to lower the fat and calories in their diet while not making tradeoffs in taste and convenience,” says Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., RD, NTF senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs.

“Not only is turkey highly nutritious but the variety of turkey cuts and products available today can be incorporated into any meal, which means cooking delicious, convenient and healthy meals is easier than ever.”

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