As a veteran educator, I can say with certainty that a child's diet directly affects his or her behavior and academics in school. I have long been pleading for schools to incorporate nutrition education into their early childhood curriculums. Health class teachers do the best they can, but there just isn't enough time dedicated to the topic. I find the situation so dire I spend time in history fielding student questions and discussing the importance of good nutrition. Believe it or not, it is not a complete non sequitur.
Consider this historical comparison: Since the creation of Jamestown (the first American colony in 1608), the life expectancies of the descendants of the colonists have increased with each generation; until now. This generation of youth will be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. Let that fact set in.
This means that, for over 400 years, each generation lived longer than the previous generation. However, now in the 21st century, a time when we have more access to information, health, exercise facilities, fresh and organic food, doctors and medicine, a generation may die before their parents.
If we are going to reverse this epidemic before it is too late, we must provide children with the knowledge to make healthy choices at young ages. Otherwise, who cares if kids know arithmetic and social studies if they don't live past their 35th birthdays?
Our first impulse is to blame less activity than previous generations. And while daily activity is a contributing factor, it is not the root cause for this historic decline. What can possibly be the cause of this historic reversal? There is only one variable that can explain this unprecedented epidemic: sugar.
Studies show that children consume (on average) four times the daily suggested sugar intake, and that sugar is directly related to childhood obesity as well as a dozen other ailments that were non-existent only a few decades ago. Additionally, in recent studies, it was shown that sugar can have same effect on the brain as cocaine and is more addicting. Parents are fighting a losing battle, considering that it is more expensive and less convenient to eat healthily. The average child's diet is dominated by sugar and starchy carbohydrates and lacks healthy fats and, more importantly, protein. It is proven that, besides being needed to build muscle tissue, protein is necessary for organ and brain function, especially in our youth. Every teacher will tell you, never teach the hard stuff after lunch. Students crash in the afternoon because they ate a carb and sugar heavy meal with very little protein (to say noting of lean protein). They spend the afternoon in a stupor.
So how did sugar become the legal cocaine? Certain food and beverage companies are committing crimes that are comparable to child abuse. It disgusts me that companies are knowingly damaging our youth for greater profit. The problem is that America has the best government money can buy. The same way pharmaceutical companies lobby to get certain drugs approved, the food and beverage industry is lobbying to ensure that high amounts of sugar remain in their products. Also, they are giving sugar certain label exemptions that no other ingredient has received. To put it bluntly: Even cigarette companies have to acknowledge that cigarettes cause cancer, but products high in sugar don't even have to list the percentage of sugar in relation to the FDA-stated daily caloric intake on their packaging. Unfortunately, food and beverage companies have access to a lot of money for marketing to buy spokespeople, such as athletes and celebrities, to persuade children take their "drugs."
While there are so many companies and industries intentionally and knowingly destroying the health of our youth while increasing their futures for profit, the news is not all bad. There are also a few companies attempting to provide students with healthier options and the nutrients they truly need to strive both physically and mentally. For all of the athletes and celebrities who are being paid to endorse foods and drinks that are slowly killing our youth, I found one former professional athlete and one celebrity who are putting their forces behind a product that will actually benefit the health and academics of children. Doc Rivers, former NBA star and current Clippers coach, and Mark Long, TV personality, have launched a product called Pocket Protein Kidz. Their goal is to start a nutritional youth movement and guarantee that our children receive the much needed protein that their current diets are lacking. Pocket Protein Kidz is accessible and affordable and, more importantly, will fuel a child's brain and body. Then there is Krazy Ketchup. They are making our kids' favorite, but sugar-loaded, condiment -- healthy! I am heartened to see companies and celebrities somewhere are focusing on good nutrition!
In America, we are living in a time where obese children outnumber hungry children. As someone who has dedicated his life to preparing his students to live active and full lives, I can't bite my tongue any longer. I can't remain silent while our own government publicly says the right things, but quietly, in back rooms, and takes actions that irreparably harm our children. If we don't address the real problem, the high sugar diets, parents will be burying their children sooner than we think. The only way to reverse this historic epidemic is to teach children, as early as possible, to make healthy food choices, applaud athletes and celebrities who promote healthy eating and, most important, hold the evil, sugar-soaked food and beverage companies accountable. Force them to acknowledge sugar's harmful side effects and demand they take steps to improve the quality of their products.