Last night I attended another school board meeting and it was nice to be recognized for my work on the Healthy Schools Program. Here are the remarks I had prepared but had to abbreviate a bit due to time constraints:
Thank you for the earlier recognition of my work as a parent ambassador for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. I also wanted to thank you for supporting the PTA 5K last Sunday and it was great to see so many school board members in attendance at this year’s event. Just two days after we held the PTA 5K, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study showing adolescents who routinely engaged in moderate to vigorous exercise had long-term improvements in their academic performance. This adds to the growing body of research showing active students make better learners.
You may have also read in yesterday’s newspaper that diabetes among youth in Kentucky is about three times the national average. Today Forbes reported “the U.S. healthcare system spends about $1 trillion per year (and possibly more) fighting the effects of excess sugar consumption.” How does this happen?
Last month I spoke about the sugar overload of students in elementary school but it doesn’t end when kids go on to middle school. My oldest is in sixth grade and all seven of her teachers have offered her some kind of sugary treat during the first quarter including soda, gummy worms, chocolate, and even an entire package of Starbursts as a reward for good behavior. On top of that are the birthday treats brought into homeroom and sugar levels in school meals that are more than double what is recommended for the general public.
My daughter loves her teachers and I know they are not trying to harm kids but it quickly adds up to too much. This is why I offer my daughters a buyout option and pay them when they say “no thank you” to the offers of food rewards and sweets at school. I do this because it is my responsibility to help my children avoid consuming too much sugar but I can’t count on support from their schools. Parents need school wellness policies that support children’s health and a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that “policies can affect school practices, even when the policies are only recommendations.”
Schools with a district policy or state law discouraging sugary foods and beverages were 2.5 times more likely to restrict those foods at parties than were schools with no such policy or law…National recommendations include limiting parties to one per month; serving only healthy foods, offering non-food items in goody-bags, and having party activities that do not involve food.
The major medical organizations recommend not using food as a reward and school districts like Kearney, Nebraska which have included this in their policies have seen a reduction in rates of childhood obesity. We know what works and as Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, put it:
Why haven’t we yet fixed epidemic obesity and related chronic disease? Because the world is profoundly obesigenic, and we have done far too little to change it.
You have the opportunity to do something to change this by strengthening the district wellness policy to address not using food as a reward, healthy celebrations and healthy fundraising. I hope you will take steps to ensure parents don’t have to rely on desperation strategies like my candy buyout in order to bring the down the rates of youth diabetes in our state and stem the rise in health care costs so the money can be better spent on educating kids. Thank you.