Editor’s Note: TSB’s Cindy Evans presents the final installment of her four-part series with a commentary on the issue.
I really wanted to hate the MISD’s new snack policy and health initiative. Especially the new rule that keeps moms from bringing cupcakes to school for a kid’s birthday. Hey, we ate cupcakes, rode bikes without helmets and rode in cars with no seatbelts, and we turned out OK.
Like many parents, I am constantly fighting the desire for the world to be just like it was when I was a kid. We were told to deal with bullies by hitting them back – harder. We ate peanuts and never heard of gluten. Men smoked Marlboro Reds – even on airplanes — and women stayed skinny smoking Kent’s or Virginia Slims. And sometimes moms brought cupcakes to school for your birthday.
I know, a cupcake isn’t the same as a cigarette, right? Not so fast. The driving force behind the District’s new health initiative is a projection by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that this generation of young people will be the first generation since 1900 to have a shorter lifespan than their parents — due primarily to obesity.
Obesity is this generation’s cigarette. This is not about looking good. It’s about diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc. Smarter people than me are saying one in three kids born in the year 2000 may develop diabetes in their lifetime, and that number rises to more than half of Hispanic boys.
More and more children have food allergies or intolerances. Peanuts, dyes, gluten, wheat, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Having parents cook food in their homes and bringing it into school is dangerous for those kids.
At the MISD Expo Last Fall, Supt. Dr. J.D. Kennedy announced his commitment to reversing the trend toward obesity for the kids in his care. He’s in good company. First Lady Michelle Obama has made reversing childhood obesity in one generation a primary focus and created the Let’s Move program to help educate and raise awareness nationwide.
The keynote speaker that day was Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who spent his life extending our lives – first with his revolutionary book, “Aerobics” and then his pioneering work through the Cooper Clinic and Cooper Institute. Dr. Cooper spent 45 minutes detailing the incredible effect of obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and basic health ignorance is having on our young people.
These two men, old enough to have the wisdom of hindsight, but young enough to be at the top of their games, were telling us food is the cigarette of this generation.
I remember the anti-smoking campaigns from my grade school days. Remember the poster of the man smoking through his neck? I was eight and it scared me to death. It was that campaign which prompted me to pester my mother into quitting smoking. I still remember throwing her cigarettes out the car window, convinced she would drop dead the second she inhaled. And quit she did. Today, my mother is 75 years old and healthy, active and beautiful.
Around this same time, my father began learning more about his health after going to the Cooper Clinic for a stress test and physical, after which he began to eat healthier and walk regularly. Today, my dad is 76, and also active and healthy. On his 70th birthday, he played in the Florida surf with his grandchildren. They are enjoying the retirement most people dream of, in part, because they started good habits long ago and stuck to them. I am so blessed to still have them in my life – and my son’s.
Those who spend their days with our children want to give them a chance at that future, and that means arming them with the knowledge to make better choices. MISD is in the business of education, and they are rising to the challenge to teach kids nutrition despite the constant bombardment of ads for junk food.
There is one proposed addition to the District’s program that I would suggest be delayed — removing all food fundraisers from the schools. Clearly, there is a mixed message when we teach children about nutrition and send them home with a “McDonald’s Night” sticker on their shirt. On the other hand, we are in historically difficult financial times, and these fundraisers bring in tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars in revenue. The reality is that cookie dough, pizza kits, Chick Fil A, concession stands, etc., play a vital role in supporting MISD programs. Perhaps this component should be delayed a couple of years. To make an objective decision, the District should survey all parent organizations and schools to find out how much money is brought in through food fundraisers vs. non-food-fundraisers so it knows the monetary impact of this decision before moving forward.
For the City’s part, building the second recreation center which was approved by voters six years ago in the 2006 bond package (with 77 percent of the vote) would be a huge step in the right direction. A second recreation center would be the focal point for more city sponsored health programs from pre-natal classes, CPR, mommy & me classes, gymnastics, recreational sports leagues, yoga, pilates, health screenings, etc. This recreation center morphed into a $45 million aquatic complex since its passage, and is stuck in limbo. If the City is really committed to becoming the healthiest city in America, it needs to at least build the recreation center and an outdoor pool now, and then add the indoor aquatic center later when they think they can afford it.
Kudos to Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Karin Klemm, Julie Blankenship and the many, many people at the MISD who are determined to change the course of history for our children. Someone took the same initiative years ago with the anti-smoking campaigns and impacted millions of lives by reducing smoking around the world. Your insight and dedication to our kids will give the next generation the tools they need to live longer, healthier lives.