Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our Kids Are Too Fat!

A headline in the Des Moines Register last week caught my eye: Child obesity called national security risk. I wrote about this earlier in the year in one of my newsletters from some information that had been released earlier on findings from the Department of Defense. Now that it is front-page news and our Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack weighs in, I think that more attention needs to be given to this epidemic.

A report was released by a group called Mission: Readiness. That report claims that 75% of all Americans from 18 to 24 cannot be enlisted in the military because they are overweight or have other issues that would disqualify them, such as a criminal record or inadequate education. While the current recession is making it easier for the military to find recruits, the obesity problems will create some long-term challenges. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that in our country, 42.5% of men and women in that age bracket are either obese or overweight. To add a little more perspective, the average young man or woman would have to lose about 34 pounds to be at normal weight, and broken down further, the average young Iowan would have to lose about 40 pounds. Both the military and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are pushing Congress to deal with this national security threat.

Already we have seen changes at school. We can no longer sell certain kinds of beverages through our vending machines, and there are also restrictions on food that can be sold, such as regular pop and candy. Our food service program has specific guidelines that they must follow in terms of food, preparation, and portions. At North Fayette, we have made the adjustments in our beverage machines as well as what we make available to our kids through our BPA program, which provides snacks to students. Carol Stanbrough, our food service director, has also worked hard to put better nutritional choices in front of our students. And, Brenda James and Trudy Campbell are working with a group of students to establish some grassroots efforts among our students to make better choices. And, more is ahead as stronger restrictions of what we make available to our students will be in place.

While I did not get to watch every episode, I did catch a few of NBC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I also have bookmarked his website and have checked out a number of the interesting pages and links that are included. One of the things that this world-renowned chef is trying to do is change the eating habits of Americans. This is a challenge that many believe to be impossible, but Mr. Oliver has started by working with the Huntington, West Virginia schools and their food service program. Working with many skeptics, he has attempted to put quality, fresh food choices in front of the students. It has been inspiring to watch his efforts and commitment. This has become somewhat personal with me as well because I am at that stage in my life where my bad habits have caught up with me. I am easily 40 pounds overweight and after recent physicals, my blood work has come back with some scary realities. As a teenager, I had no problem passing the physical for acceptance into the United States Military, but now I am hard pressed to exert a great deal without being fatigued.

So where do we go? As parents we need to get back to preparing fresh food for our children and help them established good eating habits. We also need to make certain that they are engaged in exercise on a daily basis and appreciate the benefits that healthy living will have for them in the future. I am a skeptic right now on whether changing school lunch programs will make a huge different in the obesity levels of our youth. Once again, public schools are being required to take on parenting roles. However, we are educators and we must continue to prepare our youngsters for their future.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Driving Ban, Texting, and Facebook

A few weeks ago our state legislature passed a ban on the use of cell phones while driving for teenage drivers with restricted licenses, and forbids adults from texting while driving. It may sound kind of dumb, but as the media covered this issue as it was debated, it struck me that so much of the conversation was on the younger drivers. Obviously they do not have the experience behind the wheel that we older folks do, but when it comes to texting . . . kids rule! If anyone can multi-task with one of the tasks texting, it’s a teenager! My texting skills have improved a little bit, but I am a Rookie Leaguer compared to the average 15-year old! And, once I started using a Blackberry I have successfully texted while driving. Yes, I have done it and frankly, it may have been one of the dumbest things I have done. I cannot do it and maintain necessary control of the vehicle. So, while I have texted while driving three or four times, I have stopped and am no longer texting behind the wheel. The law is a good law, but you know how it goes. People still speed in spite of the posted limits. I hope people internalize how dangerous it is, and I know our students are getting a good dose of information through driver education about the potential perils. I hope that parents are serving as positive role models for their kids because they are the strongest teachers they have!

Not many people have asked me one of the standard questions that are commonly asked teachers: what has changed since you started as a teacher? This year I cannot believe how many problems we have had with Facebook. I’m not blaming Facebook! I have an account and earlier today I found that I have 18 fellow Oakland High School alums seeking to be my Facebook friend. I am not passionate about Facebook, nor do I spend a lot of time on it. But it is a way to stay connected to friends that I do not see very often, or have not seen in a long time. (My wife still says that the telephone works just fine!) They call it “social networking” which is a term I don’t really understand, and frankly, I have never liked the term “networking” applied to human interaction, but that’s for another article! I think Facebook is pretty nifty, but like a lot of things, it can be misused.

The problems we have had at school are no different from the pencil and paper note passing that has gone on in schools for a hundred years. It is just a lot quicker and it can reach a lot more people in seconds. Problems happen when an adolescent’s bad judgment collides with technology and they fire something hurtful toward someone through Facebook. And then their target quickly fires back. And, all of this is happening while others online are being entertained and reading along and then some of them join in and away we go! I cannot believe that kids fail to recognize that if they send it out in cyberspace, they cannot take it back and it is there for everyone to read. There have been some very serious harassment cases in parts of the country that have involved cyber-bullying, but up to this point what we have are basically two kids that are mad at each other fighting their fight through a Facebook account. By the end of the year I bet we have nearly a ream of paper of Facebook copies that have been brought into us by students who are upset about what was written to them or about them on Facebook. One thing I haven’t understood it why they continue to include the person posting hurtful things on their account as a friend! Makes sense to me that if someone is running you down that you get rid of them from your list of friends!

Brain research has shown through studies of CT scans and other studies of the brain, that the adolescent brain is not fully developed, particularly that part that is involved in choices and judgment. Many kids are very responsible and make good choices on what they put out on the Internet. But there have always been those kids that do not handle things well and make bad choices; those that lack responsibility and tend to act before they think. Now, when they do something stupid on Facebook, it’s out there for everyone to see. Maybe like the cell phone ban while driving, there could be some regulation on cyber-communication. However, that is not really practical or necessary when all that really needs to happen is that parents require their child to include them as a friend on Facebook and monitor what they are putting out there for others to read. Not a bad idea!