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Our Educational System Is Failing

Science, math, history, reading…some of the main subjects our kids are taught everyday at school. It’s important for them to learn the multiplication tables, the order of the planets and how to conjugate a verb. But there is one subject that takes a back seat in schools much to the detriment of our kids – health. Teaching kids how to get healthy and stay healthy is extremely important but today’s obesity statistics reveal the awful truth that this subject is grossly neglected both in school and at home. Nearly 30% of America’s kids are obese! Childhood obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease and a poor quality of life. So what can we do in our schools and in our homes to teach kids the valuable lessons they need to learn in order to have a happy, healthy life? New school vending machines are an important step forward in this battle against the bulge.

How Important is Nutritional Education?

Diet and physical inactivity is the leading cause of premature death in the US. It tops tobacco, alcohol and drug use and is responsible for over 300,000 deaths a year. Lack of nutritional education is literally killing Americans. And because unhealthy kids grow up to be unhealthy adults, we need to focus our efforts on school-aged children to get this crucial message across. The American diet is too high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar which leads to some major health issues such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and many cancers. Teaching prevention also saves a ton of money. The total yearly cost (direct and indirect) of diseases associated with diet and inactivity is a whopping $617 billion! The USDA estimates that if Americans ate healthier diets, it would save about $71 billion in medical costs, lost productivity and deaths. All we need to do is make our kids aware of the connection between what they put in their mouths and their long-term health. Sounds simple, right? It should be but unfortunately neglect of this important prevention message goes all the way to the top.

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It’s Not Enough

The US government does have programs aimed at educating the American public about the importance of eating healthy and getting enough exercise. But when they have to compete with junk food giants, they fall short. For example,the largest nutritional education program the federal government has – the 5 A Day Program – has a budget of $3.6 million a year. $68 million is spent by Mars to advertise candy (that’s 68% more than the government’s budget) and McDonald’s spends $1 billion on advertising (1,000% more). Since people are greatly influenced by advertising and promotions, it’s no wonder they react more favorably to the higher-budgeted campaigns. The food industry as a whole (which is largely unhealthy food items) spends $25 billion on advertising. Compare this to the funding allocated to the CDC’s Division of Nutritional and Physical Activity which is a mere $45 million. And even within the government programs, the numbers are slanted. The CDC spends over twice as much on anti-tobacco campaigns than they do on their educational programs when in fact, tobacco kills about the same number of people as does poor diet and inactivity! These numbers prove that we cannot rely on government programs to educate our kids as to the importance of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

Even our schools are failing in the most basic nutritional education areas. More and more schools are cutting physical education (PE) classes and health classes. Most states don’t have a minimum requirement for daily physical education in schools. The American Heart Association is working with schools to promote guidelines of 150 minutes a week for elementary school kids and 225 minutes a week for middle schoolers. The reason schools are cutting these programs is simple.

They don’t have the funds to support them. When schools need to cut back on teacher salaries and classroom facilities, usually health teachers, health classes and gym activities are first to go. More emphasis is placed on math, science and English due to federal requirements for test scores (federal funds are linked to adequate test scores). Those subjects are important but we’re cheating our kids out of a full education. And it’s making them fat. Kids actually perform better in the classroom if they are physically fit and if they don’t get the opportunity for physical activity at school, they likely won’t make up for it after school. More than 60% of kids ages 9-13 do not participate an any organized physical activity during non-school hours. It’s vital that they get this exercise during the school day. Not only does it get their blood moving and help them burn off some fat, it will instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Lessons From a Machine?

It’s not the school’s fault if their budget can’t support every program it once could. It is their responsibility, however, to find a way to educate students in all areas, even if classes can’t be scheduled. One way schools can revolutionize the teaching process is with a new vending machine. Yes, a machine can teach your students! Don’t worry, math and science teachers, your jobs are safe. What we’re talking about here is a vending machine that only sells healthy foods and drinks. Replacing old junk food machines with these healthy vending machines will expose kids to a variety of nutritious snacks that they likely didn’t know existed. Teaching kids that healthy food can also be tasty and satisfying could be the first step in changing their eating habits all day long. No longer will they have the sugar rush and crash that makes it hard for them to concentrate and learn. If they bring home a bag of trail mix, their parents will see it and it could start an entire conversation about healthy foods and the importance of nutrition. Parents might even sample some of these foods and then buy them in larger sizes next time they go to the supermarket. Aside from the tasty nutritious items the healthy vending machines offer, the high-tech LCD screens on each machine give schools a new way to educate students. Just about every kid loves watching TV and they will stop and watch if something entertaining is happening on the vending machine screen. This opens up a huge opportunity for schools to place information on these screens that will speak to a very captive audience. The possibilities are endless for what can be done on LCD screens but here are a few ideas.

Teach With Cartoons

Younger kids will respond to a cartoon-like explanation of where food comes from. If they select a bag of baby carrots, the screen could display the “story” of how the carrot started from a seed, rain made it grow, it was picked and packaged and now is being dispensed for them to enjoy. These vignettes can have sound effects like rain and wind), narration, music and text to cover all learning styles. Having a different “story” for each item in the machine prompts students to pick a different item each time to get a new story.

Eat Local and Encourage Involvement

If you allocate a certain percentage of your machine items to locally grown and produced snacks, not only will you save a ton of money on distribution and shipping, but you have a great chance to teach kids about the food they’re eating. The LCD screen can describe the farm where the produce was grown or if your school has a garden, you can stock your own produce and explain to the kids that the food is coming right from their very own school. Encourage them to get involved in community gardens or start one of their own. Explain the economics of using locally grown produce and snacks and how it benefits the community financially.

Educate On The Machine

Nutritional information about the food in the healthy vending machine can also be displayed. This type of information is good for older students who understand the concepts of calories, saturated fats and sugars. Compare the nutritional information of a granola bar to a candy bar and your students will quickly see the benefits of the healthy items. Include information about drinks too. Most kids don’t realize how many chemicals they’re consuming with a single can of soda. A short lesson on calories will answer questions about why fruit juices are not low-cal but they are still healthy alternatives to soft drinks.

Technology Gives Us Endless Opportunities

There are plenty of opportunities for parents and schools to teach children about the importance of healthy eating apart from PE and health classes. With continued budget cuts and junk food advertisements bombarding our kids everyday, it’s crucial that we offer this type of education both in the classroom as well as out of the classroom. Kids’ eating habits start very young and without the proper lessons, they will continue to choose unhealthy foods that will eventually make them fat and give them horrible health problems. Putting healthy vending machines in schools is a great first step to getting kids on track with what they eat. Using the LCD technology to explain where food comes from, what’s in food and how it can help their bodies stay fit, as well as help them learn, will give them an excellent foundation when they start to make more of their own decisions later in life. Lessons are all around us; we just need to choose to teach them.

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