By Glenn Ellis
George Curry Media Columnist
Healthy lifestyles are learned at a young age. Like everything else, what you eat related to health, and it disproportionately impacts poor African- American children.
It’s no secret that for years, low-income communities of color have suffered as grocery stores and fresh, affordable food disappeared from their neighborhoods. But few of us stop and take note of what this is doing to our children.
Have you ever gone late to work, so you can have breakfast with your child at school to see what they serve? How about remembering the last time you took your child to the supermarket to teach them how to shop for food? When was the last time you looked around a typical corner store, paying attention to what many of our children are eating every day?
A few years ago, a study by Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education revealed that for a “little more than a dollar” city kids can walk into a typical corner store and fill up with unhealthy calories of low-nutrition junk, and for many, it has become a way of life and gateway to obesity. It found that the average Philadelphia student purchases more than 350 calories on each visit to the corner store – and 29 percent of them shop at corner stores twice a day, five days a week, consuming almost a pound worth of additional calories each week.
In fact, according to The Food Trust, in communities that lack supermarkets, entire families depend on corner stores for food purchases. The choices at these stores are often limited to packaged food and very little, if any, fresh produce. Corner stores are also frequent destinations for children, many of whom stop daily on the way to and from school for snacks.
In another national survey, fat comprised an average of 35 percent of total caloric intake in youth aged 2 to 19 years, and almost two-thirds of these youth did not eat recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. A recent multi-state study found that low- income census tracts had half as many supermarkets as wealthy tracts. Another multi-state study found that 8 percent of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of Whites.
Studies have shown that a good breakfast boosts not just student nutrition, but also student achievement and health, and reduces absenteeism and visits to the school nurse. This under-nutrition can affect a child’s behavior, school performance and overall cognitive development.
For a school age child, the act of not eating breakfast can lead to fatigue and a diminished attention span. While the body adjusts to decreased blood sugar levels, the brain struggles to perform its function with a minimal supply of nutrients. Children up to the age of 10 need to eat every four to six hours to maintain a blood sugar concentration high enough to support the activity of the brain and the nervous system. Most teachers can quickly identify those children who come to school without breakfast. Their heads are on their desks at 10 a.m. – the beginning of the peak learning hours.
Junk food is everywhere, and it is being consumed by our students in record quantities.
Its consumption is associated with various physical ailments including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, and decreased life expectancy. Because of junk food, “our children’s life expectancy could be lower than our own.” Junk food is also a major cause in the 23 percent of American children who are overweight.
Often times, doctors do not seek the root of the problem (food) but instead they mask the behavioral symptoms with drugs such as Ritalin or Prozac, which have their own series of side effects, all while the brain development continues to be damaged.
There are many health benefits associated with good nutrition and physical activity. Eating smart and moving more help children and youth maintain a healthy weight, feel better and have more energy. These positive health benefits have the potential to translate into academic benefits at school.
Good nutrition and physical activity nourish the brain and body, resulting in students who are present, on-time, attentive in class, on-task and possibly earning better grades. As students work hard to achieve high academic standards, it is more important than ever that we provide opportunities for them to be active and eat healthy throughout the day.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
DISCLAIMER: The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.)
Glenn Ellis, is a regular media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Listen to him every Saturday at 9 a.m. (EST) on www.900amwurd.com, and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: glennellis.com