Friday, August 6, 2010

DC schools take steps to healthier kids

Via Ed Bruske (aka The Slow Cook)

DC schools will no longer be serving flavored milk and sugary cereals to kids. Way to go DC. Not that I don't love a glass of chocolate or strawberry milk, but I approach it as a treat, like any other dessert, because of the abundance of sugar. It's funny how some food items still have a "healthy" perspective, when they're secretly harboring the extra calories and unnecessary sugars/fats/additives that we would all be better off without (not just kids).

Ed writes:
Chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk, as well as sugary cereals such as Apple Jacks, Raisin Bran and chocolate-flavored Little Bite Mini-Wheats, have been standard fare for breakfast in D.C. schools. Flavored milks contain nearly as much sugar as Classic Coke or Mountain Dew, and when served alongside sugary cereals and breakfast treats such as Pop-Tarts. Giant Goldfish Grahams and orange juice, consitute meals containing 60 grams of sugar before classes even begin. That's the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar, more than a quarter cup.
Whoa! If I weren't already conscious of diet for me and Scott, just because I want us both to be happy and healthy, I'd really get off my butt to start investigating these things before our little lady (in 5-6 years) starts off in school. Or, really, even earlier, if she has to go to daycare.

I worked full time at a daycare in North Omaha for a year during undergrad. It was a supremely rewarding and enlightening experience for a variety of reasons. I helped care for children ranging from 6mo to 12yrs. I learned a lot about kids, nutrition, education, life...

I remember that every day we would have an afternoon snack; sometimes it was graham crackers and cheese (a very reasonable snack, I think), but sometimes we would have oreos or chips ahoy. Now, the kids LOVED cookie days. But, I wonder, how would they have reacted if we'd ever had fresh fruit or vegetables? Sliced apples, while still sweet, have no fat, and are loaded with fiber and vitamin C (relative to cookies at least). I understand that, given our limited staff, the number of kids, and the low budget most day cares have to deal with, that packaged snacks are convenient and affordable.

But, maybe that's the problem. The convenience is difficult to get around - preparing anything fresh takes time and hands that we didn't have, but I think that our country would be better if there was a shift to subsidize healthy - and fresh - options, at least for kids. I imagine that it is much easier to make healthy decisions as an adult when you've learned them as a kid.  I can say this with some certainty because I know the opposite is true; kids who are obese are significantly more likely to be obese as adults. They are also also less likely to be successful romantically, economically or educationally.

Okay, obesity is getting a little off track because nearly all the kids I took care of were very active and thin. That doesn't mean they are getting the right nutrition at home. Sure, cookies are calorie-dense, but that's about it. Also, diabetes isn't a disease limited to overweight people. Also, many impacts of poor nutrition don't manifest themselves in fat deposits. Poor nutrition can result in anything from anxiety, hair loss, fatigue and heart attacks to depression, strokes, hypothyroidism and acne. Further, poor nutrition can contribute to the decay of teeth and gums.

Nutrition education and implementation needs to start somewhere, and that somewhere should be with kids. It is easier to reach kids in a public school setting then trying to send home information to parents who may or may not read it, and, if they weren't taught growing up themselves, will be unlikely to make any permanent changes in their homes. Moreover, in addition to simply not knowing what is nutritious and what is not, many parents may not be able to afford healthy fresh foods.

So (stepping off my soap box),

Why shouldn't we do everything we can to help all kids get on the right track early on?

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