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Education Opinion

Fat is Contagious

By Amy Abeln — August 07, 2007 3 min read
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Two weeks ago, I was on vacation in northern Minnesota and I was in the country. Midway through the week, we were running low on necessary vacation beverages, so my husband and I drove 30 miles on dirt and paved country roads to the nearest convenient store. While in “town” at this shop, we took a few moments to watch FOX-ified CNN on the television that hung prominently in a well-viewed corner. (Note: Over the bar.) I learned three things in less than 10 seconds. The Dow had dropped by 300 points, Lindsay Lohan was off the wagon and, horror of horrors, FAT IS CONTAGIOUS!

Obesity is a rampant problem across this country. All one has to do is stand in the greet zone at a major Midwestern airport to see the truth in this statement. But it is taboo to talk about. Fat is a politically incorrect term. Yet there seems to be a lot more overweight kids now than in the past. More fat people all together. And that makes sense, if fat is contagious.

Am I responsible as a teacher to let a child know he or she is getting fat? I see students returning to tech camp this summer, kids I taught two summers ago. Some are unrecognizable because they’ve grown up so much between 10 and thirteen. A few girls and boys have really packed on the pounds. It is crushing to see a beautiful child turned into a self-loathing adolescent because of obesity. (And many other problems, for sure.)

More often than not, the overweight child comes from an overweight family. Eating habits are emotionally tied to the family. Much time is required to change eating habits and I think it is important to start with the child in the classroom. Healthy Life Styles should be taught from a holistic approach surrounding nutrition, exercise and sustainability. Nutrition and math go well together. One pound equals around 3,500 calories. There are many word problems to write around that one statement. And think of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project. How could you (or I) start something like this in our own communities? Change takes place at a grassroots level.

But the reality is, there are few schools doing projects like this. Many schools still spend money on nasty, albeit “nutritionally balanced”, processed-food pre-made lunches, and in many schools, breakfasts, too, packed with empty carbohydrates. How hard is it to provide a healthy, well-balanced meal? As hard as it is to get a group of people together to start a community project???

Poor nutrition, at home and in schools, is one problem contributing to low performing schools in America. Teaching children about nutrition from a young age, especially in low performing schools where children often have hot chips and a sugary drink for breakfast and/or lunch, seems like a logical way to combat the heath problems AND health care and insurance issues of the future. (Obesity is causing expenditures in health care to explode in this country and is directly linked to diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer.) Teaching children how to search for food growing in their local communities also promotes a healthier lifestyle.

A quick story to end: Last year I was in my local pharmacy/drugstore purchasing popcorn for the Christmas Party. It was 7:45ish in the a.m. and I remember because I was running late. A mother was in the store with her young daughter. She looked around four, but she was older. I know because the checker asked the mother, “Your daughter’s so cute! How old is she?”

“She’s in second grade.” The mother responded while holding her daughter’s wrist in an eagle’s grip. Moments before I watched her ask her daughter what she wanted for breakfast. The daughter chose Firey Hot Chips and a can of Coke.

As teachers and parents, how should we envision the school’s role in helping to fight obesity? What is our role in influencing nutritional choices? As a teacher, what does your school lunch look like? As a parent, what does your child eat during the day? Is fat contagious?

The opinions expressed in My Summer at Tech Camp are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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