Nutrition’s important role in public schools

Photo Courtesy of Erin Lanigan on Flickr

Few public schools focus on a well adapted nutritional program for their students. In fact, many school boards do not bother to watch what their students actually take in on a daily basis. Positive nutritional food choices for children are important at an early age because they provide a healthier atmosphere in schools. However unhealthy choices can lead to a downward spiral in a youngster’s well-being.

Having excellent role models and promoting good food choices by teachers and parents can deliver positive outcomes for a child’s eating habits. Bringing children to understand that eating healthy, staying active, and avoiding fatty and greasy junk foods can help students become aware of their need of a balanced diet and an active lifestyle. Public schools need to accommodate and promote healthy eating habits by making use of these positive strategies.

Common food choices for children in school districts may be tasty cakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pizza; however, replacing these tasty foods with healthier alternatives for students makes better use of the guidelines from the food pyramid. For example, instead of providing children with french fries made in a deep fryer for lunch, cafeterias can replace them with a good source of fiber like cruciferous vegetables which can be steamed.

A team of researchers from The American Journal of Public Health, indicates that “Unhealthy dietary patterns, especially diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in fats, have been cited as the most frequently occurring chronic disease risk behavior among youths aged 12 to 17 years”( Hannon, P. J., et al., 2003). Nutritious plans for particular diets can be handled in ways that promote healthier eating. For example, children that are vegetarians can replace meats in a salad with hard boiled eggs which is a great source of protein.

Another downfall in nutrition in public schools revolves around school vending machines which allow students to purchase snacks. Many of these vending machines however, are a bad influence towards healthy choices. Removing vending machines that contain cookies, crackers, and chips, and replacing them with refrigerated machines that would carry fruits, string cheese, packets of celery and carrots with peanut butter and yogurts might cost more, but such a change will be more beneficial to the students overall.

In addition, using fresh ingredients can increase the nutritional value of each portion. A New York Times article notes, “A recent School Nutrition Association study showed that over 80 percent of schools cook fewer than half of their entrees from scratch” (Severson, 2009). Because the nutritional value of meals made from fresh ingredients is higher than from pre-packaged or frozen foods, schools need to look to increase the number of meals they make in-house.
It is common for many students to arrive to school in the morning sleepy, tired, and hungry without any breakfast.

In a 2004 study, the American Journal of Health Studies indicated that “adding child nutrition program managers to their planning group and increasing the quantity of healthy food choices on breakfast and lunch menus” (Barber, C., Geiger, B. F., & Petri, C., 2004) would boost overall school-wide nutrition. Many parents do not take the initiative to cook or provide their child with a wholesome breakfast to start off their day. Eating a proper breakfast is crucial for having children listen and focus on their school work and perform more productively in the classroom.

Schools that do provide a hardy breakfast for their students take a great step in assuring that children will have a breakfast that meets the food pyramid guidelines for a healthy day’s worth of meals. Breakfast is not the only meal of the day that is a critical factor for maintaining a healthy diet for the youngsters, but accommodating a lunch and an afternoon snack is key. Rather than having one gigantic meal for lunch, which makes it more likely for the child to overeat and thus become tired sooner, delivering a nutritious lunch and a afternoon snack can help boost the child’s metabolic rate. This will help children pay attention more in the classrooms.

Snacks, breakfasts, and wholesome lunches assure the school district that students are not going into class or going home after school hungry. The need for better school nutrition is recognized more and more. For example, “Mr. Obama put an extra 1 billion for child nutrition programs, including school food, in his 2010 budget proposal” (Severson, 2009). Teachers too, can be admirable role models for students to look up to. For instance, having the school gym teacher sit down with a group of students at a lunch table and eat a healthy lunch with the school students is an excellent way for the students to establish a positive perspective on eating healthier and knowing that they can be just like the gym teacher if they eat healthy.

Childhood obesity, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes are familiar issues that many children deal with on a daily basis. Taking action at a young age by avoiding junk foods and knowing that there are healthier options to choose from can help alleviate these problems. A New York Times article states, “Still, the burdens of obesity and diabetes on the health care system make it easier to argue that schools should serve less processed food, advocates argue” (Severson, 2009).

No one likes to be picked on or made fun of in school for being overweight. Children do not want to be the one who cannot play any sports because they get too tired too quickly. Reducing the reliance on foods that contain a lot of calories and unnecessary sugars, ultimately contributes to a child feeling better about herself by boosting her own self-confidence as well as helping her know the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. Having young students with knowledge about nutrition is a great way to get them to start living a healthier lifestyle and also know what they are consuming.

Providing a class on nutrition for children at a young age or delivering pamphlets to the students with the school lunches can inform their choice on what they consume. The class and pamphlets can provide a background of nutritional facts that are easy to read, identify specific food groups that can be beneficial, show how junk foods are bad to consume, and thereby help decrease illnesses and absences in school. In addition, providing a recess during the day is essential for students. Having recess is the time for children to release excess energy as well as time for them to burn calories to manage their own body weight.

A recent study, found that “adolescents do not generally practice positive nutrition and weight loss habits, which may, in turn be related to a variety of chronic diseases as a person ages” (Pearman, S. N., et al., 2000). Nutrition is important, but incorporating activity into the child’s agenda is necessary. In a time when many children are sedentary, going home and doing no physical exercising, schools providing recess helps the students to burn off calories.

Math, reading, and writing are vital for a child to learn, but including a health program into a student’s agenda is also a necessity. Taking the time to teach students about how nutrition is playing a part in their everyday life can be highly important. Giving the child alternative options when selecting food choices is not only beneficial to their health, but puts more of an responsibility on all public school boards to start using healthier choice options when providing lunches and snacks for their students. Making sure each child has access to a healthy breakfast can make all the difference to his or her day in the classroom. Nutritious diets improve health conditions and boost a child’s self-esteem.

Allowing teachers, faculty, staff, coaches and the school board to get involved within student’s lives and teach them to not over eat, how to eat, what to eat, and what not to eat is vital in order to direct the child towards better food choices. The New York Times article “Stars Aligning on School Lunches” notes that the Child Nutrition Act will go into effect this year which will “provide 12 billion to pay for lunch and breakfast for 31 million schoolchildren” (Severson, 2009).

Making nutrition a global issue in public schools is the right way for improving the health of many children and their overall wellbeing by giving them necessary guidance with eating healthier food choices.

References
Barber, C., Geiger, B. F., & Petri, C. (2004). A university- school system partnership to access the middle school health program. American Journal of Health Studies. 19 (3), 158-163. http://www.va-ajhs.com.
Hannon, P. J., Kubik, M. Y., Lytle, L. A., Perry, C. L., Story, M. (2003, July). The association of the school food environment with dietary behaviors of young adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 93 (7), 1168-1173. http://www.ajph.org.
Pearman, S. N., Thatcher, W. G., Valois, R. F., Wanzer, D. J. (2000, May/June). Nutrition and weight management behaviors: Public and private high school adolescents. American Journal of Health Behavior, 24 (3), 220-229. http://www.ajhb.org.
Severson, K. (2009, August 19). Stars aligning on school lunches, The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.

Comments

comments