I know that the tone of this blog post isn’t all that groundbreaking. Though some of the actual statistics are beyond frustrating . Regardless of the fact that I am not having children, I still notice the serious disconnect to what IS happening and what SHOULD be happening for the health and well being of the next generation.
Children start learning about nutrition from quite an early age. Thanks to my Playskool kitchen set, it was about age 4 for me. If kids are exposed to certain media images, they can recognize a McDonald’s by the age of 3. Since we all know how quickly young brains are developing and taking in the world around them, we should be doing everything we can to arm them for the best possible, healthy life. Based on your values, culture and beliefs, I get that this may differ slightly from home to home. But the basic principles of science and nutrition are pretty standard. Yet I see so many parents raising kids who have an easier time identifying chicken fingers and Poptarts instead of celery and radishes.
I spent several hours reading through Ontario’s Health Program for grades 1 through 8. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with some of what I read. Kids are learning about product labels, food allergies, illnesses, obesity, micro and macro nutrient, even how to read food labels and the tricks companies use to sell products. So if teachers are arming children with a great arsenal of healthy information, where is this disconnect coming from?
There are still statistics that say their generation will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents. Childhood obesity HAS doubled in the past 30 years. And recently the youngest case of childhood diabetes was recorded in a 3 year old from Texas. Three years old! So this is even before this kid would get to learn about good nutrition and making healthy decisions from her teachers. At this point in her life all she has are her loving parents making her food decisions for her. Toddlers don’t do the grocery shopping.
It is time for parents to wake up and start learning these healthy habits themselves and have something more to pass along to their offspring. I know it takes a village to raise a child, so the onus cannot simply be put on parents and parents alone. The school systems may have the right idea when it comes to the most of the education they give your kids about food but WAAAY too much emphasis is put on Canada’s Food Guide, which in my opinion, could use a bit of an over haul. For instance, the largest section points towards grains and breads. Choose enriched they say? Enriched products are the products that have had all the nutrients stripped from them and machines add some synthetic versions back in! Then there is the whole part of the pyramid devoted to dairy. The case for milk to be such a vital role in the development of a child’s teeth and bones is weak. After you wean a child from breast milk, it is not necessary for further development to then have them consume the milk from cattle. They do not need to be drinking milk! No other species does this. New research also raises questions about the notion that milk actually keeps bones strong. A 2013 study published in the journal ‘JAMA Pediatrics’ found that children who live in countries with lower rates of milk consumption have lower bone fracture rates than those in milk drinking countries. But milk is supposed to do a body good right? In fact milk actually depletes the calcium from our bones! Calcium is an acid neutralizer. Our bones are the largest storage of calcium in our bodies. The very same calcium that we need to stay strong is actually being pulled out the bones to help neutralize the acidifying effects of the milk. This causes – get ready for it – a calcium deficit! Not to mention that 3/4 of the world’s population has a lactose intolerance or allergy. I am one of them. That number should speak volumes.
A December 2014 study in the Archives of Disease in Children found that preschoolers who drink three or more servings of milk a day are likely to be taller, but also more obese and overweight. And if you are still not convinced that milk should not be the holy grail for school lunches (or any meal for that matter) take into consideration the calories and sugar. A 2% glass of milk has 11g of sugar and is about 135 calories. Fruit juices will get you no brownie points either as orange juice has 112 calories and 20g of sugar. To put that into perspective, Coke has 98 calories and 25 g of sugar! If the food choices are on point but the drinks look like this, we are doing kids no favours here. Water is where it is at. It does not have to be boring. Water infused with frozen fruits to keep it cold all day long is absolutely delicious! Throw some Disney princesses or dinosaurs on a colourful reusable water bottle and your kid will have some extra swagger on the schoolyard.
The guideline for what food and drinks are sold at grade schools has SOME regulations, but what the kids bring from home is ultimately the parent’s choice. According to the Ontario School Food and Beverage policy (2010), candy and sports drinks are not allowed to be sold, but donuts, croissants, corn chips, pizza, pop and pastries are all fine. What?! So while the schools are on the right track in some areas, I believe they really need to practice what they preach in the lunch room. I am not saying that pizza, chips and juice should NEVER be consumed. They should simply be looked at as special treats. Not what will be expected every other Tuesday of the month because it’s Pizza Day at school for your 8 year old.
As important as making healthy food choices are, being an active kid is just as crucial. I don’t find it the least bit cute that a 2 year old can swipe their little finger on your tablet to feed the digital fish. I get that technology is very much a part of our everyday lives now, but there has to be limits. Physical activity shouldn’t just be reserved for gym class. (And lets face it, gym class can really suck.) Hell, team sports might not be for everyone. So besides the activities that are forced upon the youth during school hours, when they get home, it shouldn’t be just straight to the nearest screen. If organized sports is just too time consuming or too expensive there are many other options for activity. Imagination shouldn’t be reserved for only those who MAKE the video games.
Children should be outside in the fresh air, getting scrapes and bruises, riding bikes, building forts in your basement out of sheets and blankets or at the park around the block. I am so proud of the revamped parks in my city! They have taken the typical jungle gym and made it something that, even I as a 31 year old, want to go and play on!! They sure beat the hell out of the jungle gyms from my childhood. We got that metal slide that would heat up in the mid day sun. It would take the flesh right off the back of your thighs. You took your chances with that thing in August, let me tell you.It doesn’t take a masters degree to come up with fun things for kids to do. I find it’s a bit of a cop out to always park them in front of a box that is intended to entertain them. There can be a time and place for that – Saturday morning cartoons anyone?
Healthy eating patterns and physical activity can set kids up for a lifetime of good habits. What parent doesn’t want the best for the kids? Don’t use the excuse that eating healthy costs too much. An experiment done in 2014 by ABC News found that eating a fast food dinner for a family of three, cost about $22 and a home cooked meal cost just $12. You might have to shop some sale items and get creative but I don’t see where that is impossible for ANY family.
I can’t just pick on fast food. Although their menu is like a sitting duck for critique when you have more chemicals in your food than actual food ingredients. ( I dare you try try to read through the insane amount of ingredients in the cheese ALONE in a Big Mac) Even the sit down restaurants have a poor excuse for the kid’s menu. Grilled cheese, hamburger, spaghetti ad meatballs. Its almost insulting that they market that food specifically for kids. Let’s give them more credit and more choices shall we?Cooking dinner can be a whole family activity. The meal will have half the calories and leave you a lot more satisfied. There are so many “quick and easy” recipes to find online, it will not take you hours to cook. As parents you need to get more creative and use YOUR imaginations to make these foods exciting and something to be enjoyed.
You don’t do children any favours by taking the easy way when it comes to meals and leading active lives. When our tax dollars go towards gastric bypass surgeries, health care costs for the morbidly obese, and a population is dying of totally preventable causes, it affects everyone. You don’t have to wait until there is a problem to then DO something about it. Change begins with us adults and we can ALL do better.