As a busy parent, it isn’t always easy to juggle our long to-do lists. Between working, homework, extracurricular activities and other obligations, most parents look for ways to streamline their task list. One of the most common outsourced tasks is meal preparation. A quick stop at a drive-thru or the use of pre-packaged meals are often the answer to “what are we going to eat?” But these “convenience” foods may be doing more harm than good.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a 1600-2200 calorie diet per day for school age children and is currently recommending a reduction of daily sugar consumption to less than 5% of total energy intake. This equates to no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for adults and less than that for children. The WHO also recommends no more than 1500 mg of daily sodium intake for children, but many of our children’s diets often exceed these guidelines. For example, the Mega Pizza Lunchable contains 830 mg of sodium and 36 grams of sugar. That is more than the recommended daily amount of sugar for adults and almost an entire day worth of sodium in one meal.
According to the CDC, the incidences of adolescent obesity in 6-11 year olds rose from 7% in 1980 to 18% in 2012, and from 5% – 21% in 12-19 year olds. That rise in obesity has led to an increase in chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and Hypertension in adolescents. Similar recent studies have now linked adolescent hypertension with the early development of heart disease and premature death.
In addition to treating student’s various medical aliments, part of my work as the School Nurse has involved educating students about nutrition. The students know that they should “eat healthy” but are often unaware of what “eating healthy” actually means. This is especially true in today’s food market where “healthy” foods are often loaded with hidden unhealthy ingredients like sugar and salt under various other names. The nutrition education that I provide is incident-specific and typically includes a basic explanation of the different food groups and the negative effects of undernutrition on our bodies. My hope is that my chats with the students will help them recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods and give them the information they need to make informed decisions about their food choices.
By Nerissa Conley, R.N., PEL-CSN
Ms. Conley is Morgan Park Academy’s school nurse.