Is Food Choice Hurting Your Child at School?

By National Hall of Fame Educator Alan Haskvitz

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It is absolutely alarming. Obesity in young children is becoming such a problem that some students cannot sit at a regular desk. They have poor attendance, they have more medical problems, and they can develop personality concerns that could impact them for life. In fact, recent research has reported that obese adolescents consider themselves bad students.

What is happening? Obviously, people are not eating or exercising regularly, but what is most frightening to an educator is the fact that children are not being taught good eating habits and having these lessons enforced. It takes a willing and spirited parent to change a child’s behavior. They may even have to change their own lifestyle.

A Life Sentence

Overweight children bring many problems to school and life with them. There is an increasing evidence of pediatric hypertension, which in combination with other cardiovascular risk factors produces insulin resistance and a lack of concentration. In addition, learning can be reduced as a child who craves a constant food supply, can not pay attention in class until he or she finds subsitence. To give in to this craving they violate the no eating in class rule. An obese student quickly learns how to sneak food and justifies this cheating by rationalizing that it isn’t hurting anyone.

Few teachers have looked at the classroom at the end of the day and not seen candy wrappers, gum, and other junk food remanents hidden away. Where did the child develop this dependency? From home. Many parents simply do not care. High calorie treats for doing well are given freely without regard to developing delayed gratification or alternative rewards. Halloween becomes an orgy of eating, and a meal is not complete without a rich dessert. There is little passion for exercise and the televison and computer take presedence over walking and doing chores.

Contributing to this is a sociey that thinks nothing of promoting questionable food choices for children. Supersizing, Happy Meals, toys, and other child incentives that promote eating fast food are difficult for a student to ignore. So what is a parent to do?

Work with the school

First work with the school. The reason to start with the school instead of the child becaue if the school encourages poor nutrition by offering bad food choices, what is done at home is partially nullified. Parents should make sure the school offers some education about nutrituion. A child should learn how many calories are needed, what the calorie count of foods, and the importance of exercise. Next, make sure the physical eduation program is robust. Merely having students play softball for 40 minutes does not develop good, lifelong exercise habits. Finally, check and see what foods are being offered at the school. That nutritious sack lunch you send to school may end up in the garbage if the child has enough money to buy junk food outside of your view.

Many years ago, while teaching in Canada, I got a government grant that enabled me to measure the calories usage and heart beat level of students doing sports commonly played in physical education class. The results were dreadful. Most sports, such as softball, kickball, football, and soccer were essentially of no value to a non-intrerested child. For example, in soccer, a child who is afraid to get involved can spend most of the class period walking around hoping the action goes elsewhere. Even when the ball came into play the action was usually brief. Now, those who were good at the sport had excellent results except for the goal keepers. The best sports for physical fitness are those that require consistent levels of elevated heart activity at an acceptable level. We advocated altering these games, but the culture has established them firmly into the culture and only a strong leader could make these changes stick.

Be a Role Model

As a parent, you need to become aware of the calorie intake of your child and the importance of good eating habits. Equally important is to stress physical fitness. At least thirty minutes of exercise every day has been proven to be of value, but make sure you check with your doctor to find out what exercies would be appropriate and be build up before doing anyting strenous. Become a role model by modeling good eating and exercise habits. Make it a game for your children.

How Many Calories

Here is a chart for adults about calories required for various tasks. Take a look and see if limiting televison and computer usage are not worth it to help your child become fit.

Remember that male children usually need between 2000 and 3000 calories per day depending on their age to maintain themselves. Females usual need between 2000 and 2300. Any calorie intake over this amount without exercise to use up this added energy is going to result in weight gain or fat storage.

Measure Your Child’s Body Mass

It is absolutely essential to being a good parent to know your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Here is an excellent calculator that enables you to find out more. It only takes a minute and it could impact a life. This is a body mass indicator. However, the only way to really be accurate is to check with your doctor and have a personal test done.

Sugar research

Some research worth noting is that there isn’t any correlation between sugar and behavior. The effect of sugar is modified by the foods eaten along with it. If a well-balanced diet is maintained sugar does not cause hyperactivity. However, a new report indicates that artificial food colorings and benzoate preservatives increase hyperactive behavior in preschool children, but this was not a broad study. The British findings also noted that parents noted their children’s
hyperactivity fell after withdrawal of food additives from the children’s diets, and there was an increase in hyperactivity when food additives were re-introduced.

The combination of sugar and starch, in the absence of substantial protein, increased deviant behavior, not only in children who were mentally disturbed, but also in normal children. This combination is found in sweetened breakfast cereal.

Children can react differently depending on where the sugar is from; corn, beets, or cane.

Other research

Obese children tend to become obese adults, putting themselves at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and other health problems.

Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and almost one in three is obese.

As many as half of all children in middle school may be overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

Most parents are unconcerned about their children’s weight.

About a third of obese girls and about half of obese boys were considered to weigh “about right” by their parents.

A third of mothers and half of fathers who were overweight or obese themselves considered their own weight to be “about right.”

The norm is becoming an overweight child. The result is parents of normal weight children are concerned that their child is underweight.

Of the overweight children, about 40 percent of children had pre-diabetes, nearly half of the students had low levels of HDL, the “good” form of cholesterol, and many had blood pressure that was above normal for their age.

Junk foods such as soft drinks and potato chips make up nearly one-third of calories in the American diet, researchers said last week.

Soft drinks and pastries pile on more calories in the daily diet than anything else. This includes high sugar content coffee drinks. Sweets, desserts, snacks and alcohol contribute calories without providing vitamins and minerals.

Childhood obesity has become one of the most prominent public health concerns in the United States. Childhood obesity has been shown to be associated with several immediate health risks such as orthopedic, neurological, pulmonary, gastroenterological and endocrine conditions.

Just as importantly, it can impact their personality, school life, and create psychosocial outcomes such as low self-esteem and depression.

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