05 August 2009

Should nutrition be the new recycling?

When I was in elementary school (in a suburb of Dallas in the early 90s) we had a lot of lessons on saving the environment. We talked about the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle. We had school assemblies where various paid groups came in and talked about hugging trees. (I'm not making that up). We talked about buying things with small packaging to avoid wastefulness. We talked about CFCs. We talked about clean water and clean air. Our teachers really pushed caring for the environment.

And my mom always pointed out that my older siblings (who attended schools in basically the same area but about ten years earlier) didn't have that same sort of emphasis in their educations.

Ultimately I don't know if I can tell you that my generation and I are more environmentally minded because of our educations or because of present circumstances. I don't even know if my peers had the same sort of environmental education that I did.

I have been wondering lately, though, about nutrition in school. In America we are observing miserable health conditions within our society, due primarily to lifestyle. The average American diet consists of far too much refined products (refined sugar, refined flour, refined fat) and far too little fruits and vegetables. As a society we spend too much time on our rears and not enough time on our feet. And we are seeing the devastating results. Heart disease (which is fairly preventable) is the number one killer in America. Type II diabetes (also fairly preventable) is rampant. Rates of obesity are climbing.

What if schools emphasized nutrition? I mean really emphasized nutrition. This would (at least in my mind) mean bringing kids back to five-day-a-week physical education classes. This would mean having real food in schools, taking out vending machines in middle and high schools (or replacing the products with healthy alternatives), and not offering unhealthy junk options to older kids as well. (In my high school you could go through the regular line or the snack bar line which had things like fries, chili cheese fries, nachos, pizza, etc.). I would even go so far as to say that the science portion of standardized tests should include materials about nutrition.

Some people might wonder about the usefulness of teaching these things to young kids who don't have a lot of control over the foods their parents buy and serve, but I think that kids can make a difference. I'm certain many parents have been harassed by their children to improve their behavior (think quitting smoking for some, recycling for others). Maybe it could be an impetus for families to have the kids more involved in family meals, or to have more family meals in the first place.

As a society we have a vested interest in the overall health of our fellow citizens. Not only because it is the charitable way to be, but because the healthier we are as a society, the better we function as a society. (More people healthy enough to work longer, fewer people using government funds for health care). As we head toward what looks like might be health care coverage for all Americans (hooray!) we need to focus more on preventative care. And what better way to avoid preventable diseases than teaching kids about all this jazz as early as possible?

(I don't have kids in school. Are they teaching this stuff there? I do have a sister-in-law who teaches fourth grade in the district where I attended school, but from what she says it doesn't seem like it's happening.)


Fionna said...

Amen sistah!

Bart said...

I didn't learn a lot about recycling in school. But maybe kids today do.

As for nutrition, I'm very much for a healthier America, and schools would probably be a good place to start.

Jenn said...

Sherry, I am constantly amazed by your elephant-sized memory. I remember very few things about elementary school. I think this is a great idea though. Of course, the best place to teach this to kids would be in the home, but it's apparent the majority of families aren't doing it or don't know they should be doing it. So I vote yes on teaching it in schools.

Jenn said...

Oh, and I like your new picture!

Erin said...

Totally agree. Although I would have thrown a fit in middle school. Every day my friends and I ate french fries dipped in chocolate shakes.

Cindy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cindy said...

I grew up in California but I totally remember learning about recyling and I think a racoon came and we sang a song with actions to remember to recycle, reduce, reuse and close the loop (the little recycle sign).

I also remember learning a lot about nutrition in school. We sang songs about the food pyramid, we learned to eat the rainbow, and about how many sservings to eat of each food group. No junk food was sold at my elementary school (K-8th grade) including no vending machines. All of the sides sold with school lunch were healthy as well.

High School was much different. The food was not regulated at all. The only food for sale was junk food. This is a more critical time that molds your decisions and I definitely think there is TONS of room for improvement in all of these areas. Most school districts have sex ed to improve "health" why not a nutritious education to improve their health.