Friday, January 7, 2011

Health in School

Mountain Dew. Coca-Cola. Red Bull. Monster. Flaming Hot Cheetos. Pringles. Doritos. Fritos. Funyons. Snickers. Twix. Reese's. Pixie Stix. Blow Pops. Tootsie Pops. And it's not even Halloween! I've seen all of these foods, in large quantities, in my classroom in the last week. Watching kids eat unhealthy food is difficult. Finding out that many of them only eat unhealthy food is upsetting. Too many kids tell me that for lunch they eat a couple bags of chips and some cookies or some other sugary snack.

For some reason, students are compelled to tell me about their eating habits. When they tell me about their multiple potato chip bags for lunch, I'll say "Oh, that's so unhealthy." Kids usually reply that they are skinny, so what does it matter. This is when I bite my tongue, but I want to put my head in my hands. Skinny does not equal healthy.

It's not the parents' fault. Most often the parents are as unaware of the true health concerns due to food as their kids are.

Last school year, I began a quest to become a healthy person. I exercised and ate healthier foods while watching portion sizes. While I did this, it was impossible not to watch in horror at the ways that my students were abusing their bodies. Most of them eat several portions of chips or candy for a snack in class. Others eat nothing but snack foods, and lots of them, for entire meals. They drink soda like it's water and really don't touch water at all. What's worse is that many of the girls engage in horrible crash diets, subsisting on nothing but gum for several days, in order to "undo" many of their bad eating habits. Once they've achieved their ideal weight, they are back to chips and candy bars for lunch.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know how to help the students. Weight and eating habits are obviously a sensitive subject. I know there are a lot of tested subjects that are vital to students, but I can't help but think that Physical Education should be a requirement every day of school. Of course, if kids were more active, this wouldn't be a problem. I wish Health was one of the classes people took more seriously.

Unfortunately, this isn't just a problem in schools. Unhealthy eating and lack of activity are a huge problem across America. Perhaps if we can overhaul bad habits in school, we can keep these problems from moving on to future generations. The problem is that schools have taken a prohibitive approach. Sodas are not sold at school. Candy can't be sold during school hours. The delicious food becomes contraband, making it even more desirable. Rather than helping the problem, the increase in rules has actually made it worse. I'm not saying we should start selling unhealthy food and drinks. Once again, I don't know what the answer is. Ideally, finding a way to make good, healthy food more affordable would be the answer.

As with a lot of problems I deal with, the trouble of what my students eat is largely based around socio-economic demographics. It's cheaper to buy unhealthy food. It's easier to grab pre-made food. Unfortunately, it ends up costing so much more in the long run.

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