Food as Reward / Food Environment / Policy / School

Do We All Have to Move to the Rocky Mountains?

Here are my remarks from last night’s school board meeting:
During this season of giving, one of the best gifts we can give kids is to teach them to love food that loves them back. A school environment that supports good health positively impacts student achievement, college and career readiness, and can aid our state education budget battle by reducing future health care costs. One of the ways you can help is by strengthening the district wellness policy.

Earlier this month, I attended the Coordinated School Health Summit in Louisville with members of the district health team including school board member Amanda Ferguson, District Health & Wellness Coordinator Myron Thompson, and members of the Lexington Health Department.  We heard from speakers about the importance of student wellness in closing the achievement gap and as Dennis Chaney of Barren River Health Services put it, “we have an ethical and moral responsibility to figure this out.”  We were told that food should not be used as reward or punishment and a heard a 5th grader respond to the question “what do you like least about school?” His answer?

“When a couple kids get in trouble and the whole class loses recess”

Using the Yale Rudd Center’s Wellness Policy Assessment Tool, we reviewed the district wellness policy and saw it needs a great deal of  improvement.  When it comes to junk food we need to remember that “easy access leads to excess” and schools should not be just another place that adds to the uneven playing field when it comes to helping kids make healthy choices.

Parents and teachers are not using food as a reward or overloading kids with junk food with the intention to harm kids.  If anything, most would be described as nurturers.  When it comes to food, Dr. Dina Rose defines a nurturer as “A Person who Feeds to Show Love”.

…some  are Peacemakers (using food to avoid conflict) or Time Buyers (using food to get some peace and quiet)…
The point is to recognize that these weak spots sabotage our efforts to teach our kids healthy eating habits…if I give in to my food=love impulse on a regular basis, what lessons and habits will I teach my daughter? To comfort herself with love?

Unfortunately using food to show love and reward is a lesson and habit that is being taught in Fayette County Public Schools.  It is a message that contributes to Kentucky being consistently at the bottom of state rankings when it comes to health and well-being.  If we are going to turn this around, parents need support from schools which impacts the culture as well. As I prepare to head to Colorado, a state which is consistently at the top of state health rankings, I look forward to my children experiencing a different culture.  As Kristin Kirkpatrick of the Cleveland Clinic describes it:

What Colorado has been able to do…is create a culture that fosters hiking over video games, and farmers markets over fast food. So what does this mean for the rest of us not living in the Rocky Mountains? Do we all have to move there to change the health of the nation? Or can we simply make some small changes in our own community to achieve…a population with less health costs and happier individuals?
We…need…to not only help individuals make behavioral changes related to nutrition and physical activity, but to also give them an easier environment in which to succeed.

I hope while I am gone you will take action to strengthen the district wellness policy and give all children in Fayette County Public Schools an easier environment in which to succeed. That’s a gift all students need and deserve.  Please make a resolution to not let another year go by without taking action on this issue. Thank you.

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