Today I participated in a Twitter conversation with the US Department of Agriculture and many concerned consumers, most of them, concerned parents. The conversation was regarding new rules (which you can learn more about here) that the USDA is imposing on students in schools across the country. The rules are an attempt to help curb obesity in American youth. I have nothing against the idea – I think that it is wonderful that our government is so concerned with America’s very apparent obesity issues. However, I do not agree that the government should try to have their fingers on an issue that start and ends in the home.
Food is a touchy subject, you see. Food nourishes our bodies, but it can also be used as a weapon, in a sense, as well. Some people abuse food usage and others literally hunger for more food. In America we have the advantage of having an endless food supply at our finger tips. With that advantage, comes danger. We Americans instantly gratify our unstable emotions with food. When we’re feeling sad, we reach for a beer or for something sweet…typically something unhealthy. We Americans pack our schedules so full of extracurricular activities that we don’t have time to cook meals at home, and instead are driving thru fast food places multiple nights a week to feed our families. We Americans do not typically make healthy food choices.
I would like to be clear that I am well aware that not every single American fits into the previously mentioned. Some people try very hard to feed their families healthy food choices and some families do make a valiant effort to eat meals at home. Unfortunately, the majority do not, and that, I think is why we are finding ourselves faced with this issue that has become literally, so large in America.
So, I’d like to thank the USDA for their attempts to try to confront this issue, but I think that they are going about it in the wrong way. We should be trying to get kids excited about cooking healthy meals for themselves! Get kids excited about being healthy, about being active.
I want to share a quick story that backs up why I feel the way I do about the USDA’s approach to this whole ordeal:
I have a heart for youth living in low-income households. When in college, I tutored students for work and I felt like I would really be able to make a difference in these kids’ lives. I thought that surely if I could spend time with them, they would start doing well in school & eventually one day be able to get themselves out of this low-income lifestyle that they were stuck in. I could help them break the mold!
And then I went to these students’ houses to tutor them and saw the home environments that they were stuck in. The mom would be strung out on drugs every time I came over. There were 8 siblings total, ranging from 1-year-old to 17-years-old. The 2 high school aged siblings were both pregnant. None of the 8 siblings had the same father. The 1st and 3rd grader that I tutored would skip school for 2-3 weeks in a row sometimes, simply because their mom could care less whether or not they went to school.
That was the point when I realized that as a tutor, as a teacher, I would have the ability to help them see something different and to help them realize their potential in life, but there would also need to come a day where one of two things happened: 1) They saw a different type of life and wanted it for themselves. or 2) Their home life needed to change.
Many kids living in poverty continue to live in poverty for the rest of their lives because their home lives don’t change, and many of them never have the vision for a different lifestyle. And that’s just the reality of it.
I tell you this story because I see a correlation with this story and with this whole USDA issue. I have not given up hope on encouraging low-income youth to reach for higher goals, but after tutoring in the ghetto, I also learned to recognize when a situation is out of my control. I will always do as much as I can to help them, but I’ve learned that some things need to happen in the home. And that’s how I feel about these new school rules.
I recognize that the USDA has good intentions and I think that they should continue to encourage our youth to eat healthy and to live active lifestyles, but I also think that they are trying to control something that is a bit out of their reach. We need some responsibility to start with parents and the home. I also recognize that it’s nearly impossible to control peoples’ home lives, so the USDA is probably doing what they see is the easiest “solution.” I am definitely not convinced that it’s the right solution though.
Kids will be hungry as a result of these new rules. When I’m hungry, my first grab is for something junk food-ish. When I’m hungry, I can’t think straight. How can we encourage learning when our students’ brains don’t have enough energy to absorb information? Healthy, active student athletes will be hungry as a result of these new rules. When I’m hungry, I want to lie down. When I’m hungry, the last thing that I want to do is be active. How can we encourage active lifestyles when our students’ bodies don’t have enough energy to be active?
What is your view on these new rules? I’d love to hear your opinion!