I’m going to fight until the bitter end to make sure that every kid in this country continues to have the best nutrition that they can have in our schools. First Lady, Michelle Obama
We have a childhood obesity problem in America. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart problems and sometimes even cancer. It can also lead to being bullied.
So perhaps we need to give Michelle Obama a break for looking seriously at this issue and trying to do something about it.
Also, because of her, many of us are looking at our backyards now and wondering if we can actually grow something for dinner. She makes it look like fun.
But while I am not against Mrs. Obama’s crusade, I think there are problems with her line of attack on childhood obesity.
While Mrs. Obama emphasizes students should get moving, and she recognizes the importance of exercise, there has been a missed opportunity for her to help bring back recess to public schools.
The importance of recess is well documented, here for example, yet many schools across the country, for years, have decreased the amount of unstructured time students have away from desk work, or there is no recess at all. Some elementary schools have been built without playgrounds.
Nashville Metro school board’s Amy Frogger understands this important issue and has rightly spoken out on the behalf of more time for recess. See here. On a state level that should be helpful.
Mrs. Obama recognizing recess at the national level would be great!
To Mrs. Obama’s credit, in her Let’s Move website recess is mentioned and there is even a statement telling schools not to withhold recess for punishment. But this isn’t enough. And one wonders if there is a disconnect in her understanding that recess has been in trouble for many years.
If that isn’t the problem, I just have to say, that you cannot stress health and then turn a blind eye to children who sit at their desks prepping for high-stakes testing all day with no breaks. The First Lady needs to read the research on this serious issue and do something about it.
Bringing back recess should be high on the First Lady’s agenda
The First Lady emphasizes PE. A principal once told me that the loss of recess wasn’t important if the students had PE. Well that’s not true. The two are very different because PE is structured.
But PE is important too. Every child should get PE, maybe not every day, but at least perhaps twice a week. PE coaches incorporate important teaching and activities about health and nutrition. And structured activities are important like unstructured play is important.
But, believe it or not, as the Tennessean notes above and as seen here, schools are bumping PE, along with recess. It is unbelievable that there will be schools where children get no activity whatsoever. If Mrs. Obama needs to fight for a cause relating to the health of children the loss of both recess and PE is a huge part of it.
At a cost of $11 billion, how have lunches improved? There is a problem with children not eating the food, thus there is also a huge loss in dollars when food is wasted. As many parents have learned, you can lead a kid to carrots but you can’t always make them crunch.
Some communities are able to contract with programs like Cook for America, a for-profit group that teaches how to create healthy but tasty school meals. However, it usually costs $2-3000 per cafeteria worker for boot camp instruction. This is typical of the push to privatize public schools by outsourcing services. While the concepts presented might be right, only a few, who can afford it, or who get special grants, get it.
All children deserve access to good food in school. Every school should get a grant to get it done.
And doing it gradually might be a better way to go with students. I think we would understand her program better this way. I mean, how many parents of picky eaters haven’t tried, at least once, to slip a little squash into a chocolate cupcake? Some subtlety might work.
It sounds like there is too much prefabricated food shipped to the schools. Why don’t all schools have working kitchens, with individuals who know how to cook and who have access to healthy, delicious, economical recipes?
Getting students to do some taste testing is a good idea. Maybe I watch the Food Network too much, but I see school cafeteria cook-off contests aplenty! Honestly. While this is a challenge, cooking exciting meals and making lunches something special should be enjoyable.
Cooking local sounds good too, taking into consideration the cultural differences when it comes to the community is important for students.
I don’t care how healthy they say the snacks and drinks are, they are still highly caloric. It seems hypocritical when you consider the First Lady’s objectives, and why do students need snacks and energy drinks during the day anyway? Leave them all in the teachers’ lounge.
Socializing and Hurried Lunches
Cafeterias are often loud and unpleasant (maybe due to no recess). But it is also troubling that some schools demand silent lunches. There is a happy medium.
Sometimes there is also not enough time for children to eat, or a school is so overcrowded that students might find themselves having lunch at 10:00 in the morning.
Giving students healthy food doesn’t matter if they have to eat too quickly. There needs to be some brainstorming when it comes to lunchtime. It should and could be a more pleasant activity.
Factors Outside School
Eating healthy at home is important too. I think Mrs. Obama recognizes this and has tried to instill the importance of healthy eating for everyone.
But parents who cannot afford to buy good food, or if they have no time to prepare it because they are working several jobs, have a difficult time following Mrs. Obama’s well-intentioned advice.
Similarly, I live in a place where there is a sales tax on groceries. This is an added hardship on poor families. Reviewing the overall impact on such harmful taxation, and speaking out about it, might be an appreciated addition to the First Lady’s healthy eating agenda.
And last of all, about the naysayers, perhaps Mrs. Obama needs to just ignore them. Don’t argue.
And for you parents whose children turn their noses up at broccoli, just remember President H.W. Bush. He once told us he doesn’t like broccoli either, and he just turned 90 as he parachuted out of an airplane. So I wouldn’t worry too much.
Now I’m off to eat my kale.