Diet, Exercise, and Your Kid's
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
There's a lot more you can do for your kids' education
than locking them in a bulletproof SUV and waiting in a smog-choked line of
other SUVs to drop them at the steps of their school. Teaching proper eating
habits and providing time for exercise will do more for your children's
potential to excel than any other thing that you, as a parent, can do.
Unfortunately, you may not get
support from your school in these matters. Lack of funding and programs such as
the ill-named "No Child Left Behind" are making it more and more difficult for
your kids to eat well and exercise properly at school, making your parenting
decisions more vital than ever before.
A growing body needs to exercise to properly
develop. There's no science to dispute this, yet schools have began to cut PE
classes to minimal levels. This not only makes it harder for children to
concentrate on classwork during the day, but is a leading cause in the
childhood obesity epidemic that's sweeping the nation. "Over the last 25 years,
caloric intake in toddlers and young kids has gone up three or four percent,
but the level of physical activity has dropped nearly 20 percent to 25
percent," says Ken Reed, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Physical
When I was in school, I had five
recess periods and my memories are of swarms of kids charging all over our
exercise fields. In a survey of parents, I found that most kids had three or
less periods of PE these days. Plus, it's becoming increasingly rare to walk to
school, something that provided me and most of my classmates hours of random
muscle-building, calorie-burning activity five days per week.
While there are plenty of studies that
show the connection between physical fitness and academic performance, it's
still a challenge for school administrators who feel they must focus on
academics. One researcher, Dr. John Ratey of Harvard, does brain research on
physical fitness and calls physical activity "miracle growth for the brain."
Despite this, it's still an uphill battle.
"The situation isn't good and
it's getting worse," says Reed. "Physical activity levels have dropped
dramatically in the last 25 years and we believe there's a direct link there to
childhood obesity, as well as a dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes, high
blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in children. It's primarily because of
budget problems in schools. Also, the focus is on the educational assessment
test that almost every state has due to No Child Left Behind and other factors.
It's become the scorecard for administrators and teachers. The focus is on
reading, writing, and arithmetic. Parents are also picking up on the state
assessment scores as their scorecards on how their school's doing, so they put
more pressure on schools to focus on those areas. Something's got to give, and
it's usually PE, music, and art classes."
Then there's your child's diet to consider, which most
likely won't be improved at school. According to statistics cited in Eric
Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, the worst-quality food goes to
fast food restaurants, schools, and pets, in that ordera pretty scary thought
when we consider that fast food restaurants and the school cafeteria make up a
large percentage of what is forming the dietary pattern of our future
It's easy to see the
food/performance relationship with school kids. One example, Appleton Central
Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, implemented a health food
program in 1997 and saw a dramatic increase in student performance. Removing
soda and candy machines and changing the cafeteria fare from the standard
burgers, fries, etc. to salad, veggies, whole grain breads, fresh water, and
healthy recipes, they saw grades go up, truancies go down, and disciplinary
matters nearly vanish.
"I don't want to say better than ever, because
it's always worked," said dean of students Greg Bretthauer recently, "but we've
made minor revisions, based on experience, to improve it. We've incorporated
flaxseed and focused on the omega content of foods. Made fresh water even more
available. We have monthly fruit smoothie days, and have really worked to
incorporate more education about eating away from schooltrying to get students
to follow through at home. We've found the diet does play a major role in
increasing the ability to concentrate."
Adds teacher Mary Bruyette, "If
you've been guzzling Mountain Dew and eating chips and you're flying all over
the place, I don't think you're going to pick up a whole lot in class. Now I
don't have to deal with daily discipline issues; that just isn't a factor
here." While there's little doubt that better food would increase scholastic
performance, there's also little chance it's going to happen on a wide scale
anytime soon. "Our district is so strapped for cash that all they can look at
is the bottom line," states Reed Bartlett, a teacher in the Riverside,
California school district. So we get cheap, low-quality food and I don't see
it changing anytime soon.
It probably doesn't help that
there's always a study out there for someone to fall back on and say things
like "see, it doesn't matter what the kids eat." Case in point, the infamous
"sugar study" that came to the conclusion that diet played little to no role in
Since I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that
I've never had a client who wasn't affected by what they ate, I'm pretty sure
not many people will disagree with me that food can alter the way you feel,
which can alter your behavior. Yet, according to Steven Pliszka, MD and
professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Health Science Center at San
Antonio, "The biggest myth of all is that food has any connection to behavior."
And there's more where that came
from. Wesley Burks, MD, professor and chief of pediatric allergy and immunology
at Duke University Medical Center states, "There haven't been any good
scientific studies that show that there is an adverse effect on a child or
adult's behavior chronically with the ingestion of foods." Perhaps not, but
there's at least one school with thousands of real-world examples of diet
playing a major role on behavior. In fact, the Appleton school tried an
experiment where they served nothing but sugar-laced foods, caffeinated
beverages, foods prepared with palm oils, etc., like "normal school kids get"
and it had a significant effect. According to Bretthauer, "They ran around like
hyped-up squirrels, felt sick, couldn't seem to concentrate. 'Pleeease,' they
said. 'Don't have another one.'"
Your kids are likely to live
less time than you, which is one of the most alarming statistics I've seen
recently, if not in my life. And that's the big picture stuff. On a smaller
scale, we see studies on the negative effects of many things associated with
the daily life of children.
Kids are drawn to bright colors, so marketers love
to change the way food looksjust look at any chain restaurant's kid menu for
examples. Yet eating foods with artificial colors and preservatives can cause
negative behavior changes in children, according to a recent study published in
the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. And that's just one. In a new
review of two dozen scientific studies, the nonprofit Center for Science in the
Public Interest (CSPI) contends that food dyes and certain foods can adversely
affect children's behavior. CSPI, in a 32-page report titled "Diet, ADHD, and
Behavior," charges that federal agencies, professional organizations, and the
food industry ignore the growing evidence that diet affects behavior.
And with researchers like Mina
Dulcan, MD, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at Children's Memorial
Hospital, in Chicago out there, it's hard to argue. She states, "The bottom
line is that too much artificial food stuff isn't good for you, but I don't
think you can believe that it's going to hurt your child's behavior or learning
very much." Yet, in order for her statement to make sense, we would have to
conclude that nothing you eat makes any difference in how your body responds.
We know this to be false, making this statementfrom a prominently
credentialed professionalunequivocally nonsense.
It makes a lot more sense to
listen to Reed, who states, "The country's decline in fitness levels, of adults
and children, is negatively impacting productivity. This generation of kids is
the first in 100 years to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Fitness levels, as well as health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure,
are much worse trend-wise than we've ever seen with teenagers and young
children. The economic cost just in terms of health care costs is going to be
dramatic. Then, when you factor in the loss in productivity, it's really going
to be dramatic for our country if it's not turned around." What can you do?
Plenty. This isn't a red tape or
lawmaker's issue. While those are factors, you are still the primary influence
on your child's health. For one, make sure they have plenty of opportunities to
exercise. The upside to the decline of PE is the availability of affordable
extracurricular sporting activities. While your doctor may tell you that you
can exist on 30 minutes of exercise three times per week, that ain't going to
cut if for a healthy child. They need exercise and movement, and a lot of
Get 'em out there. "Even with the diets kids are
getting in schools, if the kids were more active, they'd be better off," says
Reed. But you're also a major contributor to your child's diet, which begins at
home. If your school won't provide healthy meals, go on strike and utilize a
lunch box. And remember that schools, both public and private, respond to
public demand. As do politicians. Just because school menus are dismal, they're
cutting out PE, and losing their funding doesn't mean this is the way of the
future. If enough people demand that it changes, then it will.
Also, lobby government agencies
and politicians. We live in a democracy. Take advantage of your rights.
"The Department of Health and
Human Services should withdraw its printed and Internet documents that largely
dismiss the effect of food ingredients on behavior. For starters, the FDA
should halt distribution of a pamphlet on food additives that it co-published
with an industry group, the International Food Information Council," said
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. "It's high time that the
governmentas well as doctorsprovided the public with accurate
information that might help many children."
The solution is for each one of
us to keep trying. One person canand always hasmade a difference.
Because one turns into two, which turns into three, and pretty soon you have an
army on your side demanding change. "If we could just get the soccer mom
phenomenon working on physical education, we could rally parents and that would
be a great advantage," says Reed.
Further reading in the
Beachbody Newsletter Archive:
Appleton Central Alternative
High School featured in the article "We Are What We Eat"
Interview with Ken Reed,
PE4life's Director of Marketing and Director of the Center for the Advancement
of Physical Education, in "Just Say No to
Dodgeball (Curing Childhood Obesity), Part I"
Interview with Ken Reed
continued in "Just Say No to
Dodgeball, Part II"