Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Are You Healthier Than a 5th Grader?

     Thanks to the debut of Jamie Oliver's television show, Food Revolution on ABC, people are talking more and more about the "normal" ways we feed ourselves in this country.  I found it ironic that this show aired a "sneak preview" on the same night as the senate voted on healthcare reform.  Here was Jamie Olive talking about how illness could be prevented and health restored by changing the way we feed ourselves and our children.  It would have been a great lead-in for new legislation that was actually rewarding our country's citizens who are living healthy lifestyles.
     Like the healthcare debate, it is interesting to hear the polarizing opinions that many people have over this television show:

     "Who does he think he is, telling people that the ways they are eating is 'wrong'?"
     "I think this is going to be a great eye-opener for many people."
     "LOVED the show!"
     "I HATE that guy!"
     "He twisted the facts at the school cafeteria!  Those foods in the schools meet the USDA requirements.  They ARE good for kids!"
     If you've watched the show, you can't deny that it definitely forces you to take a look at the food choices you are making.  In the "preview" episode, Jamie went to the home of an obese family referred to Jamie by their pastor who was concerned about all the congregants he's lost due to 'early death' (ie:  heart attacks, stroke, etc.).  Jamie had reviewed the family's grocery receipts from the previous week, and then proceeded to reproduce all of the meals that family had consumed in that one-week time period, piling the dining table high with the menu offerings.  That visual was quite powerful.  He asked the mother if she noticed anything that had not previously occurred to her about their food.
     "It's all the same colors," she'd said.  "I didn't realize how everything we eat looks alike."
And it was true.  Everything was tan (fried), white (ice creamy, saucy, stuff), and yellow (cheese, corn and eggs) - lots of frozen pizzas, hot dogs, canned biscuits, foods fried in their fryer, and toppings and sauces for them; some corn and lots of soda and chips.  There were no vibrant greens, bright reds and oranges, or deep purples and blues.
     Jamie said, "You know this food will kill your family."
     The mother replied through tears that she thought she was showing love for her family by giving them the foods that they enjoyed, and now she felt like a bad mother.  She was told that using the knowledge she now had and doing things differently to help everyone become healthier would show the love that she's always had for them.
     Several people I know told me that the very next day they went to the grocery store and bought some colorful fruits and vegetables, and were really going to rethink what they were feeding themselves and their children.
     One glaring issue that Jamie highlighted is the condition of the school lunches when dictated by the USDA and all of their "healthy" requirements.  The chicken "tenders", potato pearls (beads of potato and chemicals that becomes "mashed potatoes" once mixed very quickly with boiling water [that also sets up very quickly once it's mixed]), and flavored milks (seriously:  strawberry milk on Golden Grams cereal???) with long lists of ingredients were disturbing, especially when Jamie asked the head cook, "Do you know what is IN this stuff?" and she replied, "Well, the first ingredient says 'chicken'.  I don't need to read any further than that.  It's chicken.  Can't you tell?"
     Anyone familiar with "super donuts"?  This was not on the show, but I do know that at other schools, there is a breakfast offering called a "super donut" that is basically a vitamin-fortified donut.  They're very sweet.  They're rich.  The kids love them.  One elementary school teacher I know reports seeing kids as young as 5-years-old being allowed to purchase multiple "super donuts" in one morning...
Of course, when given the choice between a donut and an apple, most children will choose the donut.  HOWEVER, once the same kid is educated about why healthier foods are a better choice and how unhealthier foods can make us sick and fat, they will gravitate toward the healthier foods, more and more.  Take the donut completely out of the picture and the same kid will usually eat what he's given (what's a 5-year-old going to do?  Drive to the convenience store and buy his own donuts???).  Food preferences are more pliable through age 6, but even after that it is still possible to change taste preferences.  It takes patience and diligence, and having new foods available on a regular basis.
     Thinking about this Food Revolution gave me an idea:  Who could actually live on the USDA-recommended school cafeteria food - breakfast and lunch - for a month, and feel great while doing it?  Granted, it would not be practical for just anyone to come in off of the street and ask if they could purchase a month's worth of meals from their local school, but what if you are a parent of a kid in school?  Wouldn't you want to know what it feels like to be eating that food for two meals per day, each and every day?  Or, what if you are a teacher?  Don't you think it would be helpful to know what it feels like to eat that food and then sit in the classroom all day?  Would it affect your energy levels?  Would affect your ability to concentrate?  Would it affect your behavior?  Would it affect your health?
     Anyone up for the challenge?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting topics.I am looking this type of topics, I need more informations because everyone knows "Health is wealth" is very much known to all and everyone wants good health.That means no one wants to leave this wealth. So, Let us build a food habit discipline, keep pace with work, rest and or exercise to Achieve good health, The ultimate wealth.

Jean Hanna Davis said...

I am a teacher. The year I student taught (2001) I ate breakfast & lunch at the school for about 9 weeks. I gained 7 pounds that semester - and I made good choices based on what was offered. My favorite meal is what I affectionately call the "Yellow Meal." It used to be fish nuggets, macaroni & cheese, and corn. Seriously. Some changes have been made in the past year or so--the current yellow meal is a crunchy fish patty, corn, and applesauce. In their defense, the individual school cooks are not at liberty to change the menu, and federal dollars are at stake if certain fat/sugar criteria are not met. In a world where "breakfast pizza" counts as 3 items on your tray (milk, meat, and grain), the perception of "healthy, well-balanced meal" is so unbelievably unbalanced. Change, if it happens at all, will be slow and very difficult.