Err in education, err in eating habits

Illustration by Chris Kindred.

Matt Shenker
Guest Columnist

For the past five years, there has been a reoccuring trend: anorexia and bulimia support bracelets, known as ANA and MIA bracelets.

As you read that, you may be thinking, “Oh, how great that there are bracelets that support people recovering from eating disorders.” Unfortunately these bracelets do not support such a feat.

Instead, they encourage the illnesses. These bracelets can be handmade or purchased to show support for anorexic or bulimic eating patterns. The motivation for wearing such bracelets are not for me to judge, but I can only assume that people who practice these behaviors don’t fully understand what either disease is.

Research can show them that proper dietary intake that consists of eating substantial calories is necessary for a functional metabolism that will burn body fat and not eat away at other bodily functions.

The real question is how society gets this information to said individuals in a manner that will ensure that they will listen and not just brush the information away.

These ANA and MIA bracelets have gained popularity predominantly in the United States. Along with the bracelets, it seems that eating disorders continue to exist prevalently within America. The problem we are now faced with is: How does society better educate young Americans and their parents?

Most people probably direct diet and nutrition questions to their family doctor, but a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that 60 percent of medical schools in the United States are not meeting minimum recommendations for their students’ nutritional education. Family doctors are not necessarily nutrition experts. Surely medical doctors are experts in the biology and anatomy of the human body, but they focus on repairing the human body and health, not promoting health through nutrition, so it seems that nutritional and health education and questions need to come from a more specific source.

Whom do we charge with such a specific responsibility?

On average, American children from ages 5 to 18 spend at least a quarter of their day in a public school. It would seem logical that a health and nutrition program should come from the educators at their schools. The teachers at these schools, without question, already have responsibilities and are not paid top dollar, so adding to the curriculum to incorporate more nutrition and health education may seem a bit of a ridiculous request.

Such an effort, however, would have positive outcomes for the nation’s physical and economic well being. The regularity necessary may only be once or twice a week for less than an hour, which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t seem like an unreasonable amount of time.

Furthermore, the need to have physical and nutritional education more than twice a week also doesn’t seem like an reasonable request. Extending the current physical education program and dedicating more time to nutrition may be enough to solve the problem. Another solution would be bringing in nutritional experts.

The key to these education attempts is that such attempts can’t only be focused on the children. Students spend a quarter of their time in the school, but most of the rest of their time is spent with their parents. The cirriculum needs to be expressed in a compelling fashion on a regular basis. Expressing it in such a way can lead to the students talking about the information regularly so that it gives other children they are around and their parents an opportunity to benefit from having a conversation about health.

Optimistically, a program that meets at least once a month for parents to educate them on nutrition and health topics would lead to the most effective change. It’s unfortunate, however, that this would probably be even more unrealistic than asking teachers to add more topics to their curriculum because many parents do not have the time available.

We should rely on entertaining and continuous programs to educate students from a young age on the benefits of nutrition and health. The programs that have been attempted as of now aren’t as effective as necessarily. More specific attempts to cater toward regularly entertaining children and regularly feeding them information about how to stay healthy with their diet is paramount.

The only way that America will see substantial positive changes in our diets, and the improvement of quality of life in various individuals, is if society can successfully educate children and parents on nutrition and health topics consistently throughout the development process of the child.

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