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Matthew McConaughey Tells Teens: Just Keep Livin'

Actor and dad Matthew McConaughey helps at-risk youth get healthy and remembers his dad, who taught him to give back. Plus, his new movie, 'Magic Mike.'

Nutrition the J.K. Livin Way continued...

Staying positive is one thing -- getting and staying healthy is another. Take food, for example. Dietitian Beller, nutritionist on NBC's The Biggest Loser and founder of L.A.'s Beller Nutrition Institute, provides monthly food tips for the j.k. livin program. She develops "budget-friendly, healthy recipes that kids can make at home and share with their families," she says.

"These kids simply need to be shown that a nutritional action plan is a reality for them," Beller says. "They don't see it working within their lives until you make concrete suggestions. I came up with one lesson called Making Fiber Your BFF. Instead of eating a blueberry muffin for breakfast -- which is basically eating cake, costs almost $3, and is roughly 500 calories -- I suggest steel-cut oatmeal. It costs 50 to 70 cents. Add an apple and some cinnamon, and you've got a delicious, nutritious meal that will fuel your morning. Even high-fiber cereal with some milk in a [to-go] cup works, if a kid is pressed for time. It's about making the right choices."

The Link Between Good Nutrition and Academic Performance

Establishing healthy eating habits is especially important for kids in poverty, adds Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, where she launched the ongoing research program Project EAT (Eating Among Teens).

Her research shows that ethnically diverse boys are struggling with their weight more than their Caucasian counterparts, she says. "The prevalence of obesity among [American] boys increased by 7.8% from 1999 to 2010, with large ethnic/racial disparities. In [African-American] boys, the prevalence of obesity increased from 14.4% to 21.5%, and among Hispanic boys, obesity prevalence increased from 19.7% to 33.6%."

Obesity did not increase as drastically among ethnically diverse girls during the last decade. But research done in 2010 by the University of California, San Francisco, and published in Pediatrics shows that African-American, Hispanic, and Native American girls in fifth, seventh, and ninth grades in California were two to three times more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI) than white girls the same age.

Learning to eat right is important for many reasons, not all of them health-related, says Neumark-Sztainer. Something as simple as establishing a healthy breakfast routine, as Beller suggests, can improve a child's success at school. "Breakfast is linked to a number of positive outcomes, such as lower risk for obesity, but also better academic outcomes," she says.

J.k. livin participants reflect this academic upswing. According to the foundation's research, since the program's launch, 75% of its kids improved academically. In addition, 96% either improved or maintained good behavior at school, and 81% improved attendance.

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