Here are the remarks I made at this month’s school board meeting:
The paper I gave you has the American Heart Association’s recommendations for limiting added sugar to prevent diet related disease. With a family history of diabetes, I work hard to help my children remain within these recommendations but it’s an uphill battle when there is so much sugar offered to them at school. This year, on September 12th, my elementary student’s teacher gave out Starbursts for having a clean desk and gummy worms as prizes for a class competition. Until I mentioned it to her, the teacher wasn’t even aware that the students had eaten birthday cupcakes at lunch that day too. On top of that, the school had an open house that evening and gave out ice cream. One store bought cupcake has 20 grams of added sugar which far exceeds to recommended daily limit for most elementary students of 12 grams per day. With candy and ice cream on top of that, the students were overloaded with sugar. I’ve resorted to giving my children money when they say “no thank you” to these things at school because otherwise, they would consume too much sugar on a regular basis.
Too often, parents who are trying to help their children remain within the Heart Association’s recommendations are undermined instead of supported by schools. It is not just the sugar overload that is a problem but the unhealthy habits children develop when food is used as reward. That is why the major health organizations recommend food not be used as a reward.
A new report from the American Heart Association finds that children and teens at the far end of the weight spectrum are getting heavier, faster — with about 5 percent now classified as “severely obese.” The numbers show a steady rise in severe obesity among kids, climbing from around 1 percent in the 1970’s, to 5 percent. That’s not just double, triple or quadruple, but an increase of nearly 5 times the rate in thirty years.
Once this problem gets so severe, there’s no turning back, or there’s no turning back easily,” said Dr. Thomas Inge, a co-author of the paper and director of the Center for Bariatric Research and Innovation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “People don’t like to hear that and they don’t like to know that.” Severely obese kids have higher rates of weight-related disease, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, with complications such as high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries… By the end of the first decade of life, kids are set in their environment and practices and what they eat,” [pediatric cardiologist Dr. Geetha Raghuveer] said. “There’s really no firm way to handle this problem, except to prevent it in the first place.”
With one in twenty children suffering from severe obesity, the last thing students need is schools contributing to their sugar overload and teaching them to use food as a reward. Last month I spoke about the importance of strong wellness policies as a college and career readiness issue. Obesity goes beyond just closing the doors to careers in the military, firefighting, law enforcement and paramedics. This weekend I attended a program with the American Spiritual Ensemble and the Director, Dr. Everett McCorvey, spoke about a talented singer who he recommended audition for the Metropolitan Opera. The young man was told to come back and try again after he had lost weight. As anyone who has studied the grim statistics on weight loss knows, the odds are stacked against this talented singer. Once again I encourage you to improve the odds for Fayette County students by strengthening the wellness policy to include not using food as a reward, healthier celebrations and healthier fundraising.