Authored by Jami Badershall, communications manage Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council
A phys ed class that gives homework. Smoothie machines in cafeterias. Before school run/walk clubs. Breakfast in the classroom. Incorporating physical activity into daily lessons. School gardens. School is no longer just about science, language arts, arithmetic and social studies. It has become a place to educate children about wellness.
Some might say school is not the place for children to be learning seemingly non-academic lessons. But when you consider the average kid spends 2,000 hours every year in school, it makes our schools the perfect place to teach such lessons.
The topic of childhood obesity is a difficult one to avoid, and so are the negative impacts of the epidemic (Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher classified it as an epidemic 12 years ago). Fortunately, while it is still a serious concern, real progress has been made in this arena in the last decade. In part, that is because schools have access to programs like 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! and Fuel Up to Play 60 – a program created by the National Dairy Council and the NFL. Both programs advocate eating right and being physically active 60 minutes a day and rely on a wealth of research and expertise to help schools lead children down the path to a healthier lifestyle. Best of all, they can be used in concert with one another, giving educators more resources from which they can draw.
On March 4, GENYOUth, the foundation behind Fuel Up to Play 60 released the Wellness Impact Report, highlighting the connection between learning and improved nutrition and physical activity. While some may argue that things like breakfast in the classroom or turning a spelling lesson into a physically active game, detract from learning, the exact opposite is true. It only enhances learning. “Brain-imaging studies show that the brains of aerobically fit children may exhibit superior executive-function control,” the Impact Report states.
It also goes on to say that “Serving school breakfast – especially through alternative options such as breakfast in the classroom or grab ‘n’ go – is possibly the easiest, most cost-effective and most directly helpful step schools can take to improve school and student wellness.”
If a child eats supper at 6 p.m., skips breakfast and then doesn’t get lunch until noon time, that’s 18 hours without a nutritious meal! When students are hungry, they don’t focus as well, there are more behavioral problems and performance decreases significantly. And it takes a toll on their bodies. Children who don’t eat right are sick more often, which means absences from school. In a recent Huffington Post Blog Dr. Satcher said 62 percent of teens go to school without breakfast, and “1 in 4 children live in a food-insecure household …” Breakfast at school seems a beneficial and simple solution.
And then there’s the physical activity aspect. On its web site, GENYOUth says 1/3 of the country’s elementary schools don’t offer daily recess for all their students, and more than 80 percent of kids don’t get 60 minutes of physical activity a day as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. First Lady Michelle Obama recently launched Let’s Move! Active Schools. An official White House release about the campaign states that only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools offer daily physical education classes. Meanwhile, research shows that just 20 minutes of physical activity can improve academic performance.