THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Posted Oct 09, 2010 @ 12:04 AM
It is amazing, this furor over a little spilt (chocolate) milk!
Hazel Dell Elementary School, its principal, Mike Grossen, and its staff are to be applauded for the many, many steps they are taking to improve the health, and ultimately the lives, of their students. The CATCH program (Coordinated Approach To Child Health) is, with the help of the genH (generation Healthy!) Coalition, well implemented at this school. Hazel Dell Elementary has instituted a number of measures designed to improve the nourishment their students receive during school hours, increase the quantity and quality of physical activity in which students participate, and to educate and empower students to make their own best, lifelong choices regarding their health.
These measures are to be commended. We are in the midst of a health crisis — a “national catastrophe,” former Surgeon General Steven Galson proclaimed. Our children are consuming massive quantities of empty, unnecessary calories. The American Dietetic Association, just this week, released its findings: Almost 40 percent of a typical child’s calorie consumption comes from solid fat and added sugars. These added sugars are particularly damaging, accelerating atherosclerosis and early cardiovascular disease. Reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is one critical step in reducing cardiovascular risk, decreasing the incidence of childhood obesity, and improving the overall health of this nation’s children.
Although removal of chocolate milk from the daily menu is a small piece of the overall “solution puzzle,” it is an important piece, as is Hazel Dell’s change to whole-grain breads and pastas, and the increase in daily physical activity the school has implemented. And these changes are good not only for the children’s health, but also for the school’s academic bottom line. Numerous studies show that students who are physically active and well-nourished with a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and lean protein perform better in school, both socially and academically.
Unfortunately, despite the massive media attention the topic of childhood obesity has received in the last year, most Americans do not yet fully grasp or appreciate the gravity of the situation. Obesity is the gateway to a host of health problems — diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, to name a few — and adds hundreds of billions of dollars annually to America’s health care bill. Additionally, this generation will be the first to live less long than their parents. They will face the crippling consequences of their obesity in their 20s, 30s and 40s — what should otherwise be the most productive years of their lives. The potential impact on our labor force alone should prompt immediate action on the part of our communities and businesses.
It is incumbent upon us all — physicians, educators, parents, business and government — to take immediate and definitive steps, no matter how small, to curb this epidemic. Removal of chocolate milk, a source of non-nutritive and unnecessary calories (four to five teaspoons of added sugar, generally) from a school’s breakfast and lunch menu is one such small, definitive step. Add this to the other small, definitive steps Hazel Dell Elementary has made, we will find that the children suddenly are making great strides in the right direction.
Dr. Jeff Goldstein is a cardiologist at Prairie Heart Institute and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.