Monday, February 15, 2010

The Most Important Lesson

Unless you've been in a Twinkie-induced coma for the past decade, you know that we have a serious problem with obesity in America, especially among our children. Last week Michelle Obama announced her "Let's Move" initiative:

Whatever your political persuasion, as people who love children and want them to live long, healthy lives, I'm sure we can all agree that better nutrition and more exercise are the solutions. But as large a megaphone as the First Lady has, it will all be for naught until those of us who work with young children and their families step up, educate ourselves, and bring her message into our classrooms.

I found this video over at Allie's terrific blog Bakers and Astronauts. I know you probably don't really want to spend the next 20 minutes being lectured about nutrition, but this is the Naked Chef, and it's genuinely informative, thought-provoking and inspirational. It is a call to teachers and parents to take the lead in educating children about food and nutrition. I urge you to take the time. I promise you'll be glad you did:

This morning, Lenore over at Free-Range Kids has linked to this Denver Post editorial about Ms. Obama's initiative and if you've been reading here for any length of time, you won't be surprised that I agree with the writer's premise that getting kids outside is the most straight-forward and effective way to introduce more exercise into the lives of children.

One of the things I find most interesting about this editorial by Dan Haley is how he introduces the piece with a list of the junk food he ate as a child and implies that it was his many hours outdoors that counter-balanced that. And this may be true, but the junk food we're eating today is far "junkier" than it was 20 years ago, and even the so-called healthy food we put into our bodies has been so junked up with additives and modifications that we can't even trust a simple glass of milk (as Jamie Oliver points out in the video, a glass of chocolate milk contains as much sugar a glass of soda).

And while seeking out healthier food and encouraging more outdoor play must be the backbone of any attempt to address our obesity epidemic, we also need to focus like laser beams on our food industry, labeling, and what it is we are really putting into our bodies without knowing it.

A case in point is the prevalence of plastic food packaging. Almost everything we buy in the supermarket is packaged in plastic, even the canned food because of the entirely unnecessary habit of lining the interior with a thin coating of plastic. The food industry has long claimed that their manufacturing process guarantees our safety, but just last month the very conservative FDA released a study warning about the potential negative health effects of Bisphenol A (an industrial chemical used in plastic packaging that mimics the human hormone estrogen) on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children. Several other recent studies (and here) have found strong links between this chemical being ingested and obesity (not to mention the early onset of puberty in girls).

This is just one of the consequences of the increasing industrialization of our food supply. We simply don't know the long term health effects of the millions of additives and enhancements in our packaged food. We simply don't know if genetically modified and hormone injected food can and should be ingested by humans. And the worst part is, many of us don't have access to anything else.

The solution, as Jamie Oliver points out, is to steer clear of the packaged foods and instead seek out fresh, local produce. And I would add, stuff yourself with it. Seriously. And as Michelle Obama urges, get our bodies moving, preferably outdoors.

Nutrition and exercise: as educators and parents these might well be the most important lessons we'll ever teach.

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Unknown said...

I am so glad I read this today! Kaish and I are just about to go out and take a little walk in the fresh air!

heather w said...

Thanks, Teacher Tom! I think this is an important message. For all of you who are like me and get all charged up about this idea and are shouting, "yeah!" but are facing the reality of what-to-cook-for-dinner-itis, check this out:
Cynthia Lair is a Bastyr University nutrition professor and an improv actress. She combines her talents to teach you a new recipe and make you laugh.

Deborah Stewart said...

This is such a huge weakness for me as an educator. Thanks for sharing the videos - I am going to take the time to watch them and become better informed.

pink sheep said...

Tom, thank you for bringing this very important topic to the forefront for educators in early childhood. I have been teaching Pre-K and Kindergarten PE for the past 13 years and I am continually amazed by the decrease in outdoor play among young children. This decrease in outdoor play, or just "play" in general, has not only perpetuated the obesity epidemic, it has also resulted in a decrease in the ability of children to create, explore, and solve. Thank you again!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Uh, oh, be careful, this get fit and be healthy stuff sounds like socialism to me, especially if it's coming from the Obamas. :)

Launa Hall said...

This lit my hair on fire, Tom. Thank you so much for this post. I've heard Jamie's points before, but he speaks them so passionately and eloquently that they felt brand new. I took your word for it and spent 20 min with this video, and I'm so glad I did. And the First Lady's cause is going to build momentum...very exciting.

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

Jamie Oliver will be forever remembered in the UK as the celebrity chef who tried to sort out the school dinners.

Our celebrity chefs have done a fantastic job in raising awareness of eating locally sourced organic food. Gordon Ramsay famously raises pigs, sheep and other animals for the purposes of food. He gives them celebrity names, e.g. one year all the turkeys were named after celebrity chefs. Nigella was discovered to be a male turkey! Gordon also arranged for the slaughtering to be filmed for his food show. My son watched the lot and I think it was a good experience for him.