We can’t fight childhood obesity if we don’t teach nutrition to kids. I don’t mean teaching them the government’s MyPlate nonsense. I mean really teach them nutrition. Meanwhile, schools have enough problems teaching reading, writing and arithmetic and making it stick. How do we shove another subject into an already packed school day?
We’re deadlocked. Or are we?
The Deadly Embrace
In the world of computer science, a deadly embrace is the stalemate that happens when two sequences in a process wait for the other to do something. In the picture below, Process 1 and Process 2 are each trying to progress. Process 1 holds Resource X but can’t continue without Resource Y. Process 2 holds Resource Y but can’t continue without Resource X. Neither process can continue. They are in a deadly embrace.
Now, despite my having a degree in computer science and spending more than half of my life in that field, I’m not good at it. So, I needed to learn the concept in a way that I could easily relate to. My computer science professor, empathetic to her core, explained it to me this way.
And this is the situation we find ourselves in when it comes to childhood obesity. As kids grow, they have the autonomy to make their own food choices. What they need is the time AND motivation to make good choices. But, the school day offers limited time and our approach to teaching nutrition isn’t motivating enough to hold kids attention.
Childhood Obesity – Another Davey H Shiny Ball
I get a lot of questions from the Karma Sense Wellness Media Empire audience. They’re not the kind of thing that would interest a general audience. They’re personal and don’t apply to my broader reader- or listenership.
Recently I’ve gotten several questions from concerned parents who want to help their kids adopt lifelong good nutrition habits but are stumped due to all the tides working against them. Each kid is a separate case as far as what they enjoy eating, their personalities and learning styles, and their hobbies and interests.
Here’s a sample from a Facebook follower:
I totally relate to this parent’s concern. Instant ramen is what mediocre computer science students eat when pulling an all-nighter. The typical nine-year-old is much better with computers than I am and should have no need to pull an all-nighter.
We went on to discuss some ideas for how to round out the palette of the nine-year-old in question but I was intrigued by the first part of the request.
Have you ever run across any nutrition education targeting children?
The answer was, “lately, no.” But it was a perfect question for me. Because not only do I have an unnatural, irrational and insatiable curiosity about nutrition. But thinking like a nine-year-old was right up my alley.
But before we get into that, let’s set some context.
Childhood Obesity – Context
Malnutrition is rampant and takes many forms. In the United States, about 15% of our children are food insecure. Meanwhile. one-third of our kids are obese and some of those are the food-insecure kids. In the developing world, one in six kids is underweight yet the number of obese kids doubles every ten years.
In America, there are 4,000 new cases of type-2 diabetes in kids every year. Type-2 diabetes, a fully preventable lifestyle disease that takes years to develop has 4000 new cases in kids EVERY YEAR!
The most conservative estimates say obesity costs the U.S. economy $250 billion each year.
The average school lunch offers students 10-15 minutes of table time. This teaches a habit of wolfing down meals. A recent meta-analysis in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that eating quickly is directly correlated to obesity.
About fifteen million kids are latchkey kids. That means they care for themselves before or after school. Without knowledge of basic kitchen skills and access to fresh food, that leaves them few healthy options.
Schools DO teach nutrition to kids. But as the students progress through grade levels, the amount of nutrition education declines so that by the time kids become independent and can manage their own choices, about one-fifth have the age-relevant information they need.
Are you seeing a pattern? But how do we fit nutrition education into an overburdened curriculum for a country that’s already falling behind in its math and science scores?
Addressing Childhood Obesity – A Modest Proposal
I have a modest proposal. No, not a Jonathon Swift-like modest proposal in which he sarcastically suggested the cure to the poverty problem in England was for the poor to eat their own children. This is an uncharacteristically (for me) serious proposal to improve our kids NQ, their Nutrition Quotient. This proposal further ignites their passion for learning, without compromising the importance of mastering other critical subjects.
In The Karma Sense Eating Plan, I structure the description of Mantra #4, Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise, like a typical high school student’s school day. The reader learns how to manage this guideline for good nutrition from the perspective of a student working his or her way through a day’s worth of classes. They learn about eating whole food carbohydrates after vigorous exercise from the perspective of English, history, language, philosophy, biology, mathematics and even physical education. This is possible with the subject of food because it’s pervasive in our culture. It IS math, science, literature, philosophy, sociology, geography, art and so on.
Cooking, growing food, meal planning are all math and science. History and literature are both full of key food-related moments. Writing a recipe so that another person can follow it is an advanced language skill. Learning about other cultures through food is a no brainer.
When I asked the aforementioned parent what her child’s favorite subject was, the answer was art. Food can be both the subject and medium for many an art project. I don’t mean macaroni necklaces. Have you ever seen what can be done with a well-plated meal?
What if one day a week we integrated nutrition into the school day? What if a school could coordinate and dedicate a day to certain aspects of nutrition and explore that aspect through the lens of the relevant subject for each part of the school day?
You could teach kids who have a passion for some subjects and not others about how food relates to something they love and foster some respect and mindfulness for their eating. For kids already interested in pursuing a career in food services but not otherwise engaged in the school day, you’d demonstrate how these other subjects are key to their success.
I know, this isn’t an infallible solution to the growing problems of obesity, illiteracy and apathy. It won’t solve world hunger, literally or figuratively. But it’s a great thought exercise. And it’s only a modest proposal.