I stole my kid’s persuasive essay for this blog post…he titled it: Building a Stronger American Public School System
Before I copy and paste his essay, here is a quick intro. There is a lot of information out there about kids and fitness and the childhood obesity epidemic we are facing in America, but it is interesting to hear about it from a kid’s perspective. Lots of kids play sports and are involved in extra-curricular activities, but there is a huge missed opportunity within the Public School system to encourage the health and wellbeing of all the kids, and make a huge impact to future generations. Aside from the sources he cites at the bottom of the post, another great source of relevant information is the book Spark, by John J. Ratey; you can link to his website here. This book is filled with studies and analysis of the positive effects on childhood development and academics due to increased exposure to healthy movement.
Without further ado…here is the essay:
Obesity is a serious issue plaguing Americans today. According to the CDC the amount of overweight adolescents has more than tripled since 1970. While many Americans are aware of what causes obesity in children and teenagers, little is being done to combat this deadly epidemic, including our own public education system. For example, schools throughout America serve their students food that doesn’t contain nearly enough sustainable nutrients to aide a growing child. Isn’t it ironic that in a standard biology class, students are taught how eating nutrient dense foods fuels the human body and promotes better health, yet the foods served in most public school cafeterias is anything but nutrient dense, much less tasty?
This sends a mixed message to kids that while the human body functions best on healthy foods from various “real” food resources (fruit, vegetables, protein, fats and some whole grains) students however, are not important enough to be served this food in their own school cafeteria. Instead they are served tasteless, chemically processed foods that are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients that even the spelling bee champion can’t pronounce.
Often times, when questioned about why the American school system provides such poor nutrition for their students the answer comes down to funding. However, there are many resources that can be tapped into that could be cost effective as well as teaching children how to grow a school garden and learn how to make healthy meals during their lunch period. Instead of a 20-35minute lunch break where students are forced to eat their food quickly (barely leaving enough time for the food to digest) lunch time should be extended longer and turned into a learning opportunity that could be considered a subject of its own.
With so much emphasis placed on test scores and academic achievement we need to consider how the brain works and what makes it function to its fullest potential. Rather than placing more stress on students and teachers to do better on standardized testing, giving more homework and busy work in and out of the classroom, we should start with something as simple as the food we eat. Why not serve the students premium high quality foods? Study after study has proven that quality foods that contain vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants nourish the brain and protect it from stress, which many students suffer from. Since the brain will function better when quality food is ingested, this will exponentially improve the test scores and ability for students to learn!
In addition to not being served quality, nutrient-dense food, students are not moving their bodies enough. One study has said (see sources below) that the average American student sits 4.5 hours in school alone. That’s not including the time sitting on the way to and from school, doing homework and let’s not forget all the time us young people spend on our phones. All of that sitting adds to be over 8 hours a day.
According to a CDC study from 2006, only 4% of America’s elementary school students are provided daily physical education, 8% of middle schools and, wait for it…only 2% of America’s high schools are provided daily physical education, or its equivalent. In addition, many schools are known to share physical education with health class. Guess what students are doing during health class? Yep, sitting! Which means only half of the school year high school students who participate in PE are actively moving their bodies.
Physical education classes mainly teach units on sports, which are already offered as extra-curricular activities. I believe students would benefit much more by learning functional movement patterns, such as the primary movements like, deadlifts, squatting and pressing/pulling exercises. Students should also learn mobility exercises such as yoga or Pilates. In addition to teaching cardiovascular exercises they could incorporate fun games that would provide kids the stress relief that they need to thrive in the society we live in today.
Many schools are already provided with gyms and weightlifting machines, only to be used mainly by sports teams. The equipment should be accessible to all students and taught by qualified and trained teachers. Perhaps even having the option of getting to school early so students can get some exercise before starting the day. Research has shown that students who exercise before school did better on tests and were able to handle stress better and fight depression.
Teachers can help students get more active by allowing them to stand up for certain time periods during class time, perhaps even sit on the floor or offer fun quick exercises that they can easily do at their desk.
Quality nutrition and exercise do so much more than fight obesity, the two combined together help not only build healthy bones, muscles and promote good brain function but also help to build confidence in kids and fight depression. Providing students with a physical outlet to place their pent up energy as well as fueling them with healthy foods could make a difference in the way kids treat each other and cut down on bullying. This can build a stronger community in the American public school system.
In short, I believe American public schools should promote a healthier lifestyle for all students. Starting with changing the food given in the cafeteria, educating us on the benefits of eating nutrient dense foods, building community school gardens and offering more activity and exercise during the day to students. The benefits far exceed the excuses that there isn’t enough funding.