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Expo gives kids information to make healthy choices
University of North Georgia student, Alicia Rutzinski, volunteering with The Longstreet Clinic, plays a spin the wheel game on Sunday with visitors. The game, “teaches kids about allergies and how to combat them,” Said Rutzinski at the annual Child and Family Wellness Expo presented by the Junior League of Gainesville, Hall county at the headquarters of Interactive Neighborhood for Kids in Gainesville. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

Information about food groups, healthy snacks and alternative choices can sometimes be hard to grasp when reading it off a pamphlet or handout.

Some Gainesville organizations set out to make the learning process fun for kids and families, using a hands-on interactive approach. The Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County, along with the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, was able to bring joy, laughter and more importantly, a response, from its target audience, children.

INK and the Junior League combined to hold the third annual Healthy Habits Child and Family Wellness Expo on Sunday at the children’s museum.

The expo welcomed more than 650 people.

“It turned out really good,” said Christina Jones, co-chairwoman of the expo. “Junior League has a strengthening our families program and this is part of that program. We just wanted to make the public aware of healthy lifestyles, eating habits and exercise, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Twenty different vendors, including six first-year participants, from around the community dived headfirst into the interactive approach, using games and contests, a puppet show and a makeshift grocery store to help children better relate to the subject.

Kids also learned about allergies, animal care, dentistry and exercise to go along with healthy foods.

“Anything interactive to get kids moving (is a good thing),” Jones said. “Kids have energy and they want to do stuff, so these activities really have kids gravitating towards them.”

Lawanda Edwards, who brought her son, Austin Edwards, 4, said she didn’t know what to expect at the expo because they had never been to one before.

“It has a lot of good and interesting things as far as dentistry and just all different things that (the kids) can take away,” she said. “The puppet show was really cute, showing the unhealthy things and trying to get something that was healthy.

“This is a kids’ place. Kids love to come here and play. Now, they have something extra that next time they come they are going to remember, ‘hey, we did this’ or ‘we learned that here.’ It goes hand in hand.”

Edwards said her son’s favorite things were learning and playing with the dog at the animal care station, and he tried his hand at the hula hoop contest.

Marta Zavala said it was fun for her to take her two sons, William, 6, and Joshua, 4, and attend the expo as a family.

“It’s fun for them to get out of the house and do different activities that they enjoy doing,” she said. “They liked playing in the grocery store setup, picking their own food and scanning it.

“Most of the time, I try to give them vegetables and they get a lot of protein. But, sometimes, they do get the stuff that’s not as healthy, but I have been trying to cut back on that.”

Vicki Hope, dietitian of the Northeast Georgia Health System’s bariatric and weight management group, talked with people about the high sugars found in different everyday drinks.

Displaying a table ranging from juices and energy drinks to sodas, she displayed the number of sugar packets needed to sweeten each of them.

Hope said the visual helped to better show that more sugar can add to a person’s calorie count.

She called the expo a “wonderful opportunity” to talk with people about nutrition, and called it a great thing for people to “visually” learn what had been discussed.

“The turnout has been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “Not only just looking at nutrition, but looking at the whole person and getting a chance at some activities. They are learning about different things. Things that aren’t good for you such as smoking habits and things of that nature.

“For children to be able to come in on a hands-on situation, learning at their level and in a way that’s interesting to them is very important and a wonderful thing to have in our community. ... What you do now affects your health later. So the earlier we can get information for people to understand the importance of good nutrition earlier in life, the better.”

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