The next generation is the first ever with a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
In 1980, only 7% of children between the ages of 6-11 were considered obese, but by 2008, that number had jumped to 20%. In the past 30 years, the number of obese children has tripled.
Parents and schools are the most effective means for reversing this deadly trend. Through the National School Lunch Program, both public and private schools are encouraged to provide meals that are lower in calories and more nutritionally balanced. While the National School Lunch Program is an excellent initiative to make schools more accountable for what we’re feeding our children, there is still a major area of concern: vending machines.
While kids love vending machines for quick snacks, many of the options contain empty calories and excess sugar.
Some schools still have food and drink vending machines available, while some have eliminated them all together. Vending machines are not necessarily the problem, and taking them out of schools is not necessarily the answer to the obesity problem. Instead of taking the vending machines out completely, schools should try to offer healthy alternatives and teach students how to make wiser decisions when choosing something to nibble on between classes or after school.
Some schools have tried adding carrots or fresh fruit to their vending machines. While this is a step in the right direction, students still crave their favorite junk food snacks.
What Can We Do?
Instead of totally removing junk food options from students’ lives, we should teach them about nutrition, moderation, and foods that are delicious and healthy. Sugar is addictive, and its consumption only calls for further consumption. The same goes for the chemicals in processed foods. Once children become used to eating sugary and processed foods, they’ll crave more. If you work healthier foods into their diets gradually, they will soon naturally begin to crave fresh fruits and veggies instead of Cheetos and Oreo cookies.
Instead of taking away your children’s favorite snacks all at once and removing vending machines from schools, introduce healthier foods and slowly wane processed foods from their diets. Teach children about moderation and let them know that a few times a month, they can indulge in a vending machine snack as a special reward.
If you are able to add fresh fruits and vegetables to a vending machine without compromising their naturally healthy quality by adding preservatives, doing so would be an excellent way to incorporate healthy snacks. You can also replace soda and juice for flavored waters or lower sugar and lower calorie juices. Establishing good health patterns and eating habits will last longer and be more effective than simply removing vending machines.
More than anything, children love encouragement. Do everything you can as a teacher, parent, family member, or friend to encourage and reward kids for healthy eating and outdoor activity. You are their biggest ally for a healthier lifestyle.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by cliff1066