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Food impacts kids' health now, later

Published November 16. 2013 09:28AM

Even though the language arts component to the lessons is secondary, I consider those lessons to be as important as any I teach every year.

When I moved from teaching eighth grade to seventh in 1998, I persuaded my principal and fellow teachers to allow our students to eat a healthy snack between second and third period every day after we taught them what constitutes a healthy snack. We have done so every subsequent year.

When I construct the healthy snacking lesson plans, I keep in mind the same question that guides my language arts lesson plans: What's the desired end result?

Here's where things get tricky. Since a single snack can't be more than 15 percent of the calories the students will consume in a typical school day, the goal can't simply be to have students eat a single healthy snack. No long-term good occurs if kids snack on apple slices dipped in peanut butter during school but down a sugary drink and a candy bar immediately after.

Therefore, the lessons need to paint a broader picture, to illustrate that healthy eating and living is a 24-hour-a-day endeavor.

Furthermore, the suggestions can't be seen as too hardcore or the students as well as their parents will be turned off or discouraged. In other words, the lessons need to stress moderate strategies and avoid too many personal anecdotes.

Suggesting to seventh graders to eat more than two pounds of veggies for supper or work out every morning at 5:00 certainly won't help matters.

As a result, this has become the golden goal: Does the lesson enhance overall awareness?

After all, my desire is not to have legions of little Fitness Masters inhabiting Carbon County. Instead, my wish is to present lessons that show actions are not isolated, that all actions, including the ones that affect health and fitness, create a domino effect.

So the linchpin to all the healthy snacking lessons is that the food choices children and teens make really do affect their health, not only that day in school but also days, weeks, months, and even years later.

The rest of today's column chronicles that those guys in the white lab coats have proved just that.

For instance, at World Health Day 2013, Dr. Norman Manger presented research that found obese children demonstrate insulin resistance, the precursor type 2 diabetes. Additionally, obese children usually have the early stages of atherosclerosis the clogging of arteries with fatty substances like cholesterol. Since another study introduced at World Health Day 2013 determined being obese in young adulthood increases the risk of both diabetes and heart disease by 23 percent, it stands to reason that childhood obesity worsens these numbers.

About a dozen years ago, a slew of studies found that poor eating and a lack of exercise create up to 90 percent of all type 2 diabetes and that improvement in both areas often cures the disease. Therefore, establishing good eating and exercise habits at an early age and continuing them into adulthood virtually eliminates the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

A study performed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine determined that a single type of unhealthy food, sugar-sweetened beverage, creates an adverse domino effect in kids. Primarily, the results concluded that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases caloric intake.

The UNC researchers used data from the What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2003 to 2010. It yielded information on the eating habits of nearly 11,000 children and established that those from 2 to 11 who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have a higher total caloric intake than those who don't. The researchers also found that teens who consumed more than 500 calories a day from sugar-sweetened beverages a number that's easy to reach if you drink a sugary beverage with each meal and snack consumed more solid food calories.

Since the overall consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased in the last 20 years, a time period that has also recorded higher percentages of overweight and obese children than ever before, it only makes sense to link the former to the latter.

Finally, a report published in the Journal of Pediatrics correlated soda consumption with aggressive behavior in five-year-olds.

Those subjects drinking an average of four or more servings a day were found to be twice as likely to get into fights or destroy property and also displayed a greater lack of attention than those who didn't drink soda. Even when researchers used questionnaires filled out by the mothers of the subjects to eliminate other factors, the link to soda and aggressive behavior held firm.

One limit to the research, however, is no distinction was made between sugary, diet, caffeinated or caffeine-free sodas.

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