WASHINGTON — Shape Up America! and the National Turkey Federation (NTF) announced on April 28 a national mobilization to help First Lady Michelle Obama fight childhood obesity by informing parents about the benefits of making simple changes in meals and encouraging increased physical activity levels.

More than 12 million children in the US are classified as obese and more than 23 million young Americans are considered overweight. As a result, the organizations are increasing efforts to show parents how to improve their children’s weight status using an online tool called the Meal Upgrade Calculator.

In addition to showing consumers how to “upgrade” favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, this interactive website now gives parents a way to assess the weight status of their children and reduce the calories and fat consumed in meals served at school and in restaurants. The Family Activity Calculator is another new feature, which shows parents how to increase the time children spend being physically active.

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, Shape Up America! estimates.

Shape Up America! and NTF commissioned a 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 features information to help parents recognize overweight in their children and a new Family Activity Calculator 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.

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 six years and 16 years and calculates the Body Mass Index (BMI) of their youngest child. Conducted in March 2011 by ORC International, this online survey reveals although 34 percent of the children assessed in this study meet the criteria for overweight or obesity, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of their mothers don’t recognize it nor are they taking steps to decrease their children’s weight.

Many 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.

Almost half of the moms (44 percent) regularly pack their child’s school lunch, which is why new features to the Meal Upgrade Calculator with information on how to “upgrade” school lunches were added. The Meal Upgrade Calculator is available onwww.shapeup.org andwww.EatTurkey.com.