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THE SCHOOL DAY JUST GOT HEALTHIER: SAVING OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES

 

Since the beginning of our country one of the greatest core beliefs that we have shared is that the next generation will do better than its parents and live longer.  I certainly grew up with that belief and I suspect you did as well.  There is serious doubt about this generation’s economic progress.  Many of us doubt that our children will have as good a life as we have and that is enormously sad.  What is even scarier is the calculation from reputable studies that this generation of children will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.  Why?

One third of all American children are obese or overweight. They have higher levels of diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet-related diseases than ever before. One reason for this is lack of exercise, but the other potential early killer is poor diet. Many children eat half their calories at school lunch and breakfast -- improving school meals is the best opportunity we have to reverse the steady march towards obesity and an early death for our children and grandchildren. The USDA has a new set of dietary guidelines for school meals called “The School Day Just Got Healthier” based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and with the assistance of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

The goal is to provide children with more fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, low fat milk and less sodium and fat. This will not only improve the health of the children but also help them to be more alert in class— avoiding the sugar and excessive carbs afternoon crash. Numerous studies show that children learn best when they have healthy meals: they have improved focus and cognition, improved behavior and fewer missed days. This is also our best opportunity to introduce healthier eating habits that will last a lifetime.

There are some challenges to this new program. Suppose a child has eaten the meal and is still hungry or needs extra energy to play sports? Schools can give the child an additional vegetable or piece of fruit or another serving of milk. Schools can also provide a healthy afterschool snack for athletes and other students staying late.

We all know that a program of this size and intent will take time. It will only work if teachers, administrators and, most importantly, parents are on board. That calls for extensive basic nutrition education to move people from the high sugar and salt addictions that have captured the taste buds of the majority of our society. There is a place for desserts and pizza and other foods that America enjoys, but there must also be a larger role for delicious fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. 

This is literally a matter of life and death and quality of life. It means a better and longer life for our children, and for all of us.

Bill Ayres

Co-Founder and Executive Director

WhyHunger