Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts: these are the core subjects taught in public schools in America. Health class: this is typically taught only a few times a year and only a section of this course covers the topic of nutrition. According to the CDC, “US students receive less than 8 hours of required nutrition education each school year, far below the 40 to 50 hours that are needed to affect behavior change.” As with any subject, the earlier in life and the more often an individual learns about nutrition, the more knowledgeable they will be about it. Yes, it is important for students to learn those core subjects, but it is equally, if not more important, for them to learn basic human skills and information that will influence their health, physical as well as mental. Without this knowledge early on in life, changing lifestyles and getting rid of bad habits will be much more difficult later on in life.
Currently, nutrition is taught through activities such as counting practice for young children through pictures of vegetables, or through school assemblies or posters in the cafeteria (CDC). These strategies of informing students about nutrition can be superficial and do not have much of an impact on young children. Students would benefit more from learning about what is in the food they eat, why it matters, and what effects it has, rather than facts such as “vegetables are good for you,” “you should eat three meals a day” and “too much sugar is bad.” Understanding the “why” behind these statements is important for children in their comprehension. A nutrition education should talk about the science behind food, describing what protein, fats, carbohydrates are, and what they do for your body, such as providing energy. Simply looking at pictures of “healthy” foods and listening to an assembly once in a while goes right over a child’s head. Getting and maintaining students’ attention, especially that of young students, can be difficult. Incorporating a variety of meaningful activities, rather than solely presenting images or information without context, expands the learning potential. Research shows that an educational experience that is “student-centered, interactive, and experiential (for example, group discussions, cooperative learning, problem solving, role playing, and peer-led activities)” (CDC) has the greatest impact on students absorption of knowledge and application into their real lives. When students have meaningful learning experiences, they are more likely to get the most out of it. This type of interactive and personalized learning strengthens the learning experience and growth of knowledge for any subject, and nutrition should be one of the subjects that incorporates this strategy.
Nutrition education is invaluable to young children as it could impact their lifestyle choices for a long time. Being informed about nutrition will have an impact on students’ physical and mental health, as the two are interconnected. Certainly, creating healthy habits in children reduces the risk of obesity and being dangerously underweight. However, there is so much more that is involved. For one, poor nutrition not only causes higher or lower BMI, but it can lead to a multitude of diseases, included but not limited to: heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (Cspinet). These diseases cause many other health-related issues as well, and are frequently fatal; the greatest cause of death in the United States stems from diseases related to poor nutrition (Cspinet). Secondly, practicing healthy habits has been proven to greatly affect one’s mental health (mentalhealth.org). Having a lack of proper nutrients and/or an excess in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, negatively affect one’s mind. Third, research shows how there is also correlation between good nutrition and improved academic performance (Wirthlin). This parallel is not surprising. Your brain needs nutrients and energy to function properly (Burrows). Additionally, as previously stated, nutrition positively correlates with mental health, and a better mental state can improve academic performance. Lastly, with a solid foundation of knowledge about the science and facts about nutrition, children will less likely be as affected by information that will be presented to them via social media, etc. Media platforms can display false or skewed information, such as new trendy diets that are supposedly “healthy,” but in reality, are not. Hopefully, if students receive a quality education in nutrition, they will be able to make their own smart choices about their health with the information they receive in school.
Through scientifically proven facts and research, it is evident that nutrition health drives one’s overall life, and an education on this topic is essential for young children. Public schools in the United States currently have nutrition education, but there is a need for it to become a more comprehensive part of the curriculum. There is also a need, a greater one, for economically disadvantaged countries to have a form of health and nutrition education. In these communities, nutrition education is not even existent. There are less resources in other countries for children to learn or adults to research their questions from the Internet or books. It is programs such as Profugo’s health forums in Wayanad, India, that help communities that otherwise would not get this important education and information. There needs to be a greater worldwide push for a greater emphasis on nutrition education, so that there will be more funding and resources in all communities. With quality health education, lives will be improved.