By Halley Schlemmer
Would you believe me if I told you 1 in 3 children in the United States public school system is overweight or obese? One in 3.
Believe it. Of the 30 million students enrolled in U.S. public schools, 10 million children are already at risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes. Did you see that right? Ten million children in the U.S. are already at risk.
Toward the goal of a healthy and nutritious America, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented on a national scale in 2013. This legislation requires school meals to be fewer in fat, calories and sodium and contain lean proteins and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. We have started the change in the American public school system, but this crisis runs deeper, younger.
School districts nationwide are reporting full trash cans and empty cash registers. School children in the U.S. either throw out the healthy foods or opt out of school lunch all together. Our schools aren’t teaching us how to feed ourselves properly. We, the next generation of adults, don’t know what nutrients we need and where they come from.
Chris Burckhardt, director of child nutrition and wellness at the Lakota Local School District in Ohio, said the factor inhibiting an American society of healthy, hunger-free kids and young adults is children aren’t eating healthy at home. Experts say by the time children reach school age, tastes and preferences are already defined. By this, I mean that by the time children are 5 years old, they know what foods they want or don’t want to eat. It isn’t surprising that a child eating chips, cookies and snack cakes at home is skeptical of the broccoli and potatoes available during school lunch. It isn’t surprising that they throw them away. Healthy eating starts at home.
The implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a great start, but the legislation has failed to reach its goal. We’re unhealthy and hungry for nutrients. The New York Times quoted Chris Burckhardt, “I talk to P.T.O. and P.T.A. groups and ask how many serve only whole grain and low sodium foods at home and maybe one hand goes up.” To this alarming statement, he adds that he’s not convinced that person was telling the truth.
Remember, 1 in 3 children is already at risk for heart disease.
These children at risk grow up to be adults at risk. Making healthy, nutritious decisions isn’t easy in today’s fast-paced, more-for-less society, but it’s essential. Health and nutrition have been pushed to extracurricular in recent decades, and as a result, you and I have been left fumbling around grocery stores in search of something familiar. So, we go get burritos. We’ve been taught we like them. We have been left untrained to create a meal that’s both good and good for us.
As college students, it’s essential that we provide our bodies with the proper nutrients we need: fruits, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates and lean proteins. Midterms are approaching, you’re considering postgraduate options, you have two essays and an exam at the end of the week; do you know what you’re going to have for dinner? Is your dinner going to provide you with the energy to study all night? Will it provide the nutrients your body needs?
A dietician by the name of Tamara Freuman outlines several ways to implement health and nutrition into your fast-paced life. First, start with variety.
Dietary variety is the foundation to moderation. Our bodies need a diverse range of vitamins, minerals and proteins to perform basic functions. When buying and making food, it’s important to consider why you’re eating it. We need to eat orange fruits and vegetables because they help our eyes see far away: fish and nuts help our brains learn; eggs help our muscles grow. This is important because it helps us understand why only going out to eat burritos, for example, won’t sustain our long night hours.
U.S. News refers to the next step toward moderation as becoming a food authority. This means that we must set high expectations for ourselves, but in addition to expectations, we must offer clear guidelines. The sorts of guidelines that support moderation include deciding on appropriate snack options, dictating appropriate times for meals and establishing appropriate times for special treats.
The third and final step toward moderation is simply to keep the junk food out of the house. Keeping special treats out of the house will ensure that the so-called “sometimes food” doesn’t turn into an everyday food. This step is the easiest to follow, and, I would argue, the most effective. Removing the availability of cookies, chips and snack cakes will allow more fridge room for fruits, nuts, cheese or hummus. By keeping “sometimes foods” out of the house, accessing and eating special treats becomes a conscious decision that requires action. This will inevitably push you to snack on the carrot sticks and edamame in the fridge instead of ho hos you have to go out and purchase.
We’re eating poorly. We’ve been educated poorly. And it’s our responsibility, all of us, to set the example and to explain our reasons in the goal of a healthy and hunger-free America.