Under-nourished or malnourished kids can’t learn. Arkansas ranks at the very top of states whose citizens die of chronic lower respiratory diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma) which are caused by tobacco smoking, indoor and outdoor air pollution, exposure to allergens and occupational agents, unhealthy diet, obesity, and physical inactivity. The state ranks 3rd nationally in deaths from heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease, and 6th in death from cancer. Clearly the population needs to learn about better nutrition.
First of all, consider that without proper nutrition, people are more likely to self-medicate with drugs including cigarettes and alcohol because these substances make people feel better even when they are in poor health.
One potential means of addressing some of these health problems would be to require public school education in nutrition, including practice in preparing healthy meals. At least one semester in this specific curriculum for both male and female students could break into this cycle of poor health. A two-week summer course (required) would bring students to work in community gardens as well as learning to cook with fresh produce.
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program in Arkansas is a first step toward better health, but fails to live up to its promise by setting income guidelines at 185% of poverty level. There is no guarantee that a person with an income $20 or $2,000 above the poverty line is adequately informed about nutrition. The WIC program also requires applicants to have a ‘nutritional need’ but the ‘needs’ outlined for acceptance do not approach all the real nutritional needs a woman might have for herself and her fetus/child. Most importantly, WIC is voluntary, and a person must apply in order to gain this support. Every pregnant woman, upon her first visit to a physician, should be assigned a caseworker who will ensure that nutritional education and support is provided. [A passing grade of C or above in a high school nutrition class would provide exemption.]
It goes without saying that the school breakfast/lunch program must serve as the best example of nutritious meals. Federal standards pushed by former First Lady Michelle Obama have gone a long way toward meeting this objective. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act changed nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program by requiring that schools serve more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free and/or low-fat milk more frequently and less starchy vegetables or foods high in sodium and trans fat.
Studies have shown the direct correlation between nutrition and academic performance.
Research suggests that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children, and access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels.
A vast body of research shows that improved nutrition in schools leads to increased focus and attention, improved test scores and better classroom behavior. Support healthy habits and consistent messages: Nutritious school food helps students develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
Sadly, one of the first acts of Sanders’ mentor Donald Trump in gaining the presidency was to reduce the school nutrition standards. The Obama-era policy suffered a series of rollback measures which allow for less whole grain, more sodium, and more flavored milk despite a 2018 analysis of more than 90 popular chilled flavored dairy milks which revealed that a carton of flavored milk can contain as much sugar as a can of soft drink, with many of the bestselling brands containing more than a day’s worth of added sugar in a single serving.
The overweight condition of both Trump and Sanders (and her parents and siblings) illustrate their lack of understanding in nutritional matters. Nutrition is fundamental to a child’s future prospects, and without public investment in health, too many students will not succeed no matter what schooling they receive.
 The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act provides meals to children that normally could not afford those nutritious food items. It also allows schools to have more resources that they may not have had before. A study in Virginia and Massachusetts concluded that children in schools were eating significantly healthier meals when their parents or guardians were not choosing their food, but the school was. While looking at the nutrition value of 1.7 million meals selected by 7,200 students in three middle and three high schools in an urban school district in Washington state, where the data was collected and compared in the 16 months before the standards were carried out with data collected in the 15 months after implementation; the information found that there was an increase in six nutrients: fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and protein. While providing new meals with improvements in fruits, vegetables, amount of variety, and portion sizes, the calorie intake has also transformed.
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