September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month- so I'm using it as motivation for my blog- for the month. It will take a community to solve this issue, so everyone can be part of the solution whether you have kids or not.
Many programs such as the School Nutrition Programs, the food industry, business, and the advertising industry are often targeted as “the” problem or cause of all our ills and the obesity crisis for both children and adults. If only it were that simple. Today I’m going to focus on schools and what I see people targeting unnecessarily and some real solutions.
Granted, many school breakfast and lunch programs earn their reputations, but many get wrongly labeled and in reality provide incredible meals. I've worked in school nutrition and there is a need for change- interestingly there are still kids in America who only get food at school, which is part of the beginnings of this program. These programs do receive federal funding, and over time the requirements for funding have change based on the needs of the countries youth. Most of you know about the school wellness initiatives, funding for school nutrition is directly tied to school systems having these wellness programs in place, some better than others, but we need to start somewhere! The revisions to the school nutrition program in the early 2000 focused so much on nutrients, i.e. vitamins, minerals, fat, sodium, and opened the door for highly fortified foods to make the cut that should not have. The new revisions focus on nutrients coming from foods! Imagine that! So although we all may have some varying views, the school nutrition program is noticeably different this year. More color, more different vegetables and fruits, less grains- i.e. desserts and more whole grains, less nutritious foods displayed away from the healthier options and the not as visible lower sodium content. In some areas, the resources are better to enable the cafeterias to meet the requirements and in some areas they may need some volunteer help.
Here are some things to think about- if fat free chocolate milk is nourishing after a workout- what is different for a growing kid with high calcium needs? Is that milk less healthy than those pre-packaged nuggets that kids eat 2 - 3 times the appropriate serving size because they are so used to eating adult portions “at home”? The school nutrition programs are competing with vending machines, school stores and parents. That said, there are districts that have revamped and started serving much more fruits and veggies, lower fat entree's, low fat and healthy a la carte options, taken the high fat and /or high sugar snacks and beverages out of vending and replaced with healthy options, ALL changes met with great results and increased participation and therefore much needed income. These programs were not worrying about competing with fast food, but rather about serving quality food to nourish our kids. We get so focused on villianizing something- fat, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, ... I’d rather see a child, or adolescent, eating fruited yogurt with a little high fructose corn syrup or flavored milk than missing dairy all together. Yes you can consume calcium in other foods, have you looked at the amount that you would need to consume to be comparable? I would rather see them eat pasta than a Lunchable. You get the idea.
The other side of the energy equation is physical activity. In last weeks blog I brought up the issue concerning lack of physical education in schools, but we need to also evaluate what is being offered and how long kids are really moving. Some studies of traditional “gym” classes, found that in a 50 minute classes the average child moved less than 13 minutes! How can that be? Waiting to take their turn at some isolated skill. Calisthenics is also popular, as is running in PE class. Think about kids and people who aren't fitness fanatics - what would 15 minutes of calisthenics do to motivate them to move? Do you think that child will be motivated to find some other activity? How will that overweight or obese kid fare in a “throw down” exercise class? Will he or she come out of it injured because we treated them as a kid without issue with joints or movement?
Kids LOVE little toys. There are companies that sell little toys cheap, as cheap as smarties and other candies that are given for finishing homework, getting good conduct etc. It's time to stop rewarding with food, especially at school! The arguments for cutting PE, for having vending and candy fundraisers and similar have been focusing on test scores and federal funding for achieving minimal scores. The focus has been on “academics” and lack of federal and state funding in individual schools, hence the need for fundraisers.
We need to focus on positive steps that will result in positive (or really negative balance) change. Work with your school district, hands on to help them to revamp their process or programs. Support the programs.
• Get farm to table in your schools to promote more fruits and veggies,
• Help plant a school garden where the kids can grow the foods that go into their lunches,
• Advocate for kid size portions,
• Advocate for more made from scratch items that kids will eat,
• Add movement daily in PE and recess,
• Be vocal that PE be more lifetime sport/ play oriented instead of the old fashioned single out the less coordinated or less popular kids kind of activities, so that PE actually promotes the love of being fit for ALL kids.
These solutions are evidence based, proven to improve test scores. Bottom line is fit and nourished kids perform better!