By Phil Nast March 24, 2011 9:54 am
An article I read this morning, included an infographic tracing the consumption of meat in the United States. The author described her difficulty justifying a decision to stop eating meat, rationally rather than emotionally. I’ve wrestled with the same issue, and I’ve concluded that the only rational justification is a consideration of cost: cost of production, cost at the supermarket, and cost in health. It’s the dollars at the register that talk to me most rationally.
The infographic started me thinking about food and fitness. What caught my eye was an apparent correlation in growing meat production and the ballooning fast-food industry. Someone is eating all that meat. Someone is eating in all those fast-food restaurants. (Sorry, Julia. Service station is a more accurate name.) In the years the fast-food industry doubled, childhood obesity increased by more than 200%. In one generation, childhood obesity has tripled. This slide show includes a number of other forceful infographics. Obesity is not just a childhood problem. Overweight kids grow up to become overweight adults.
It’s not just the meat. The average American eats 29 pounds of French fries a year and drinks 53 galloons of soda, two bathtubs full. Cutting French fry consumption in half would reduce calorie intake by 13,000 calories. Comparable savings could be made by moderating soda consumption. Too much soda is a bigger problem than too many calories. Diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, and more have been linked to drinking soda in excess. We don’t need to resort to bark and twigs. We don’t need to stop eating fast-food, we just needto be smart about it. The Ancient Greeks had the plan: “Nothing in excess.” Moderation. The world’s easiest and cheapest diet.
Eating is only half the equation. Calories taken in should be balanced by calories used. As the infographic The Skinny on Obesity in America reported: “Less than 4% of adults engage in enough physical activity to improve their health, although 40% claim they do….” Regular exercise is necessary for maintaining weight and wellbeing in general. What’s true for adults is true for children. And forming good habits early will pay off in the long run.
Schools can’t do everything. And when physical education is judged less important than academic subjects, promoting physical fitness will only become harder. This CDC fact sheet noted gains in school health policies and programs in the years 2000-2006. Whether that trend continues is questionable.
So what can schools and teachers do? One thing is to provide healthy food choices. Another strategy is to reschedule recess before lunch. “Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.” This change should provide gains at no cost. And who said there was no such thing as a free lunch? Exercise moderates appetite and behavior. Maybe lunchroom noise too. I remember lunchroom duty as an often painful experience. Some schools have lunchroom decibel meters to monitor noise level. Maybe the meters can go the way of the paddle.
In an earlier blog, I suggested ways classroom teachers can add exercise to improve student attention and performance. Starting a period with activities might help ease transitions and burn a few more calories too. Over the course of a year, this moderate effort will pay off.