Does Your Child’s School Have a Nutrition Class? If Not, You May Want to Ask for a Curriculum Change12 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
For most kids, school is like a second home. The average child in America receives approximately 900 to 1,000 instructional hours of time in school per year. And healthy lifestyle habits, such as meal prepping with nutritious foods, should comprise a portion of those instructional hours because the childhood obesity epidemic in America is a major public health concern that must be addressed.
(The incidence of childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Currently, one in five school-aged children (ages 6-19) are obese. In addition to this, approximately one-third of American youth are overweight. And if our children are overweight or obese, the more likely they are to remain so as adults, which may increase their risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, depression and diabetes).
A recent study, conducted by the Yale School of Public Health, found evidence that in-school nutrition education helped middle school students limit increases in their body mass index (BMI).
Participants of the study included 600 students from 12 schools in New Haven, CT. Researchers found that the schools with “enhanced nutrition policies and programs [this could be healthier lunches available in the school cafeteria as well as classes focusing on eating healthily]” overall had students with an increase in BMI percentile of less than 1%, while the schools without these policies and programs had students with increases of 3-4%.
“Results are among the most compelling to date, said the researchers, perhaps because of the strong community-university partnership, and the recognition that health and academic achievement often go hand-in-hand,” according to a report discussing the study.
There is overwhelming evidence that a child's diet can play a major role in his ability to learn. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child's failure to eat fruits, vegetables and dairy products is associated with lower grades, while nutrient deficits, such as vitamins A, B6, B12, C, iron, zinc, folate and calcium, are linked to higher rates of absenteeism, tardiness and low grades,” according to one source.
So as parents we have to not only consider the dangers of being overweight or obese, but also take note that poor eating can have a major impact on our children’s academic development.
Regarding the study, what is also particularly interesting is that “[r]esearchers also tested whether a series of policies to promote physical activity would impact adolescent body mass index. They determined that the physical activity policies alone had little or no impact on body mass index.”
This isn’t to say that physical exercise is not important for adolescent health, but most schools never skip physical education classes and athletic activities. And it appears that nutrition education classes need to be just as commonplace as physical education.
Nutrition Education Must Be Taught Properly
Every teacher has his or her own approach to teaching and engaging with students. I truly admire our educators. They literally shape the future. Educators who have the important responsibility of teaching students about nutrition must take the right approach.
I came across a very interesting article about how some nutrition classes were actually detrimental (unintentionally) to some children.
For example, children perhaps should not be told that there are “bad foods.” This could lead to disordered, restrictive eating. Children should be told what nutrients they need to stay healthy and the foods they can get these nutrients from. They also need to understand why certain foods should be eaten in moderation.
A family physician referenced in the article says that “harmful, anxiety-inducing ‘health’ advice is everywhere...dangerous messages permeate every class, from official assignments to offhand comments or ‘wisdom’ teachers share. A second grader was told by a teacher that sugar is more ‘addictive’ than narcotics. A reading assignment asks a child to circle ‘bad’ foods. A teacher shares her bulimia history in detail with middle school girls, which research shows is risky.”
Although there is scientific research to support the conclusion that sugar may be just as addictive, or even more addictive, than drugs, we have to remember that children require a special approach when it comes to sensitive issues such as weight management. Health and weight management can be a very personal journey, so it may be difficult for some teachers to remain objective when teaching kids about nutrition.
However, just like history, math and science, nutrition needs to be considered as a necessary subject in school. Nutrition education can be a major proactive step our society can and should take to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.
Finally, if your child currently has weight issues or you notice that his or her academic performance is not up to par, I would highly suggest having your child take a nutrient test. Being nutritionally balanced helps us all maintain a healthy weight and perform our best both physically and mentally. If a nutrient imbalance is detected, a competent healthcare professional can suggest dietary changes and possibly recommend quality supplements.
Your health is your greatest wealth, and your greatest knowledge.
Let’s enjoy our healthiest lives!
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