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How Public Schools Can Prepare Students for Healthy Lives

By Sabina Rose
Food Pyramid -

Americans have long been leading the pack when it comes to excessive eating. With fast food chains on every corner and drive-thru windows more common than not, it’s not difficult to see how our nation’s weight has gotten out of control. For many years the focus of this growing epidemic rested solely with the adult population. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Americans are now seeing this problem spread to a large percentage of children nationwide as well. Whether falling into unhealthy eating habits due to restricted income home situation or simply following the habits of their parents; it is estimated that 1 in 3 children in America are overweight or obese. While helping adults get healthy is important, addressing the issue of childhood obesity is quickly becoming a national priority. Children that start life out struggling with their weight are more likely to develop health issues that will follow them throughout their lives. So how do we take the necessary steps to protect a generation and get America’s children healthy again?

IHow public schools can prepare students for healthy livest starts at school

Once children reach the age they are eligible to start Kindergarten, the majority of their daytime hours will be spent at an educational facility. This being said, it’s important that educational systems take the initiative to implement programs and classes that promote healthy living.

By including healthy habits and lessons into general education, schools can show children in a practical way how living healthy can be a part of daily life. Providing health education at a young age is a great way to stress the fact that taking care of ourselves is just as important as our academic achievements. The following are five simple things every school can utilize to teach students healthy life habits.

Improving on school lunch programs

While school lunch programs are fairly affordable and have always been a convenient option for busy parents; they have not always been the most nutritious choice for a child’s midday meal. Chicken nuggets, pizza bites, hot dogs and other calorie-packed foods have long been staple-items on school lunch menus.

An easy way to promote healthy eating in school lunch programs is simply to provide healthy alternatives to current servings. The White House is currently promoting this option by requiring school lunch programs to offer more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and overall nutritious alternatives to sugars and fats. Another initiative from the government is the implementation of  the USDA food pyramid, which later became MyPlate. They are dietary guidelines for Americans to eat healthier, which also includes  a special section for kids.

For schools that are worried about not being able to afford healthier choices, there are many non-profit organizations that offer grants to help school districts get started. Similarly, there are programs established like The Lunch Box, which feature free online tools for school. At these sites, lunch program coordinators have access to healthy menus and recipes that they can use as they like.

Understanding the benefits of physical education

Many doctors recommend that children get at least an hour of physical exercise daily. The rising obesity rate among children is a clear cut sign that not only are children not exercising regularly, but nobody is pushing them to improve upon their health habits.

Unfortunately, budgets today are being trimmed at schools across the country. Physical education programs are usually one of the first to be eliminated when forced to contend with other academic programs. It’s important that schools acknowledge the fact that movement and physical activity are not only essential health habits for children; they are a necessary release of daily stress and pent-up energy.

By making physical education a priority within school curriculum, educational systems will help promote healthy living and a more relaxed atmosphere amongst their students. Because children have different interests and talents, it would be beneficial to provide different types of physical education that might include dance or martial arts as supplements to traditional physical education programs.

The benefits of breakfast

While it’s important for schools to make drastic changes to current lunch programs by focusing on improved nutrition, it would benefit every child to have a breakfast program available as well. It’s a well-known fact that children who start the day off with a healthy meal will be more focused and alert in their studies. Sadly, many family schedules either don’t allow time for this important meal, or can’t make it a financial reality.

There is a well-deserved push for schools to implement affordable breakfast programs that would promote healthy living for all students; no matter what their financial or family situation. If schools were to provide this service, children would be guaranteed a nutritious start to the day. These breakfasts would also cut down on a child’s need to fill up on unhealthy snacks throughout the day.

Speaking of snacks…

A simple strategy for catering to the sugar-cravings of students is for school to place vending machines on school grounds. While these sugary sodas and calorie-packed snacks are a quick fix for hungry stomachs and money in the school system’s pocket; they are detrimental to students’ long-term health.

Once again, it’s time for schools to implement simple and nutritious swaps-outs. Replacing soda machines with water and sugary snacks with more nutritious options are small steps that go a long way towards creating healthy habits.

Telling it like it is through practical education

Home economics-type courses are still a big part of most high school educations. This is a tradition that remains constant as a way to equip students with basic domestic skills that will benefit them once they are graduated and out on their own. While this is an effective education, these same courses could be revised to include nutrition education and additionally expanded into elementary schools. This would not only be a way to easily incorporate important lessons into a course that already exists; but an effective strategy to reach younger students early on.

The future of childhood nutrition

These are changes that could help schools make big strides towards helping children achieve lifelong health. With more students growing up in a society that struggles with weight issues, do you think schools are doing enough to promote healthy living?

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