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Beyond the Grocery Store... Teaching Children Where Their Food Comes From

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It's no secret that New York City has a major problem with childhood obesity. In fact, 20% of the city's kindergartners are obese or overweight. Shockingly, that figure rises to 40% for all elementary school children, meaning the problem starts early and gets worse as kids grow.

Lack of access to nutritious foods and lack of information about what is healthy are contributing to these distressing statistics. That's why nutrition education programs are so vital to the health of the future adult population. They fill a much-needed void by providing schools and families with the knowledge and tools necessary to tackle obesity and foster healthy environments that lead to healthy life choices.

On the national stage, Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, Rachael Ray's Yum-o! and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation are all shining a light on the nation's alarmingly high rates of childhood obesity while advocating for nutrition education as a way to empowering kids to make healthier choices. And right here in New York City, nutrition education programs like the Food Bank For New York City's CookShop and Hunger Solutions New York are taking the fight locally. In fact, Saturday October 22nd, 1,000 New York City teachers answered CookShop's call for adding nutrition education to their core curriculum.

These programs are helping children adopt new, healthier behaviors. But while their impact is admirable, there simply aren't enough of them. CookShop impacts approximately 135,000 children, a small portion of the public education system.

The sad reality is that many children don't know where their food comes from. In fact, many of them think food originates at the grocery store. They don't have access to fresh produce, and they don't realize the relationship between eating healthy food and having the energy to run and play. They don't understand that the reason they may feel tired is because all they ate for lunch was a bag of chips. They don't know the difference until they are participate in nutrition education programs.

We need to reach every child in every school throughout New York City to make a long-term difference. According to the Let's Move initiative, if we don't solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later could suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. The good news is that this is all preventable.

Kids and their families deserve to learn what nutritious foods look and taste like, how to use them properly, and how to make the best food choices using limited resources. For those struggling to prepare balanced meals every day, nutrition education programs teach families how to budget, stretch their dollars and make smart food purchases that are both wholesome and affordable. These kinds of skills are critical. They provide a fundamental understanding that can help stem obesity and curb long-term health problems like diabetes.

That means that nutrition education needs to be brought to more classrooms. We must commit more funding to provide nutrition education on a large scale so that we can prevent long-term illnesses associated with obesity. Resources may be limited, but working towards a long-term solution needs to be a priority. Private industry and New Yorkers must step forward and truly make an investment in the lives and well-being of the children of New York City.

Without that commitment today, the negative consequences of non-action will be realized again and again through each subsequent generation.