Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix and food activist Debra Eschmeyer think there is one major thing schools around the country need to improve upon: health education.
Promoters of physical education and healthy eating in schools, the pair took the stage as part of a panel at NBC’s Education Nation Summit on Oct. 8 and spoke about the need for schools to produce healthy, well-balanced students. Eschmeyer, the co-founder of FoodCorps, an organization that seeks to improve school nutrition and teach kids about healthy living, described food education as an essential part of schooling; Felix, a track and field Olympian, touted physical activity as a pillar of learning.
After the panel, they each caught up with The Huffington Post to share why they think health education is important, and whether or not it will improve.
Eschmeyer founded FoodCorps after her husband was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 25. Following his diagnosis, she took control of his nutrition, measuring out every grain and carbohydrate he ate. But she eventually saw that she was destroying his love for food.
“It made me realize that you can do this in a way that is positive … and make sure people have a healthy future, “ she told HuffPost. “You shouldn’t have what you're eating be something that brings you down.”
Eschmeyer explained that kids throughout America are suffering from a nutrition gap, where a vast majority of kids are not eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. In an effort to narrow this gap, FoodCorps places fellows from Americorps -- a federally funded community service organization -- into limited-resources schools, where they teach kids about healthy food, improve the quality of cafeteria meals and develop school gardens.
“There are 100,000 public schools in the United States,” Eschmeyer told HuffPost. “We have a long way to go to ensure lunch is high-priority subject matter.”
Felix, on the other hand, is passionate about making sure cash-strapped districts do not cut physical education and sports programs. She says that without school sports, she never would have discovered her athletic talents.
“I didn’t grow up like a lot of Olympic athletes where they start at a very young age. … I was in a lot of different activities. … I feel like, because of all the activity, I was able to find eventually in high school that I was gifted in sports,” she said. “I’m living proof. I stumbled into my sport, and it's just because I was an active kid that I was able to.
Felix's enthusiasm for fitness in schools found a natural outlet in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which combats childhood obesity.
“I did better in the classroom because I had that outlet to get energy out,” said Felix. “I don’t think I knew it at the time, looking back. And looking at the research, it really shows that the kids who are active do better in school. … Now I can really place it and say it was because I was active I was a good student.”
Both women agree that things are starting to move in the right direction for their causes. Eschmeyer lauded the recently updated school lunch nutrition standards, and Felix say the Let's Move campaign has helped schools realize the importance of fitness.
"I think we’ve seen a big change from generations ago, where physical activity [in schools] was a given, but we’re improving a lot in recent years. ... [W]e’re moving in the right direction," said Felix.