Why Our Children Need Food Education—And Stat!

Obesity,Children

For the first time in recorded history, today’s children may die at a younger age than their parents. Thanks to increasing rates of obesity, and the diseases that accompany it—diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—today’s children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, according to former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

About one in three American children and teenagers are overweight or obese—a rate that’s tripled since the 1960s. The trend shows no signs of slowing down, much to our detriment.

Our children also have some of the worst eating habits to date: less than 20% of adolescents eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day—and more children can recognize junk-food giants like McDonald’s and Chick E.

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Cheese’s but are less likely to be able to properly identify vegetables like cauliflower or eggplants, according to Michael Jacobson, the founder of Food Day, a national movement to celebrate healthy, affordable, sustainable food.

“Food education is too important to be left to soda companies, fast-food chains, and other junk-food advertisers,” said Jacobson, who is a big advocate for food education in schools.

That’s why Food Day and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation have joined together to launch a new nationwide campaign called Get Food Education in Every School, a program that will raise awareness about the dangers of obesity and the importance of reducing obesity and its accompanying diseases in children.

“This is a chance to start talking about how food education should be an integrated part of the school curriculum,” said Jamie Oliver, chef and founder of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. “Hands-on cooking and essential food skills should be taught to every child at every school in the country.”

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Children spend the majority of their day in school—so it’s quite ironic that there is no strong, national food education programs put in place already. Today’s children receive only three to four hours of food education a year. Less than 25% of high school students take cooking classes—usually some of the first programs to be cut when faced with budgetary constraints.

This, along with enticing marketing from junk food companies and a lack of physical activity among children, are the reasons we’re seeing higher rates of obesity in children and adults than ever before.

This new campaign hopes to change that and help set our children on the right track, and build support for food education from all levels of government.

There’s a strong need for a unified, national food education program, mandated by the federal level of government, distributed to every state, so that we can help our children with some of the biggest challenges they’ll face in their lives.

Currently, the Food Trust’s school in Philadelphia is leading by example, by providing 50,000 children in 100 schools with nutrition classes and student-run fruit markets. In the state of Mississippi, lawmakers set up the Healthy Students Act, which mandates that students must receive 45 minutes of health education a week, and 150 minutes of physical activity instruction a week for elementary school students.

These programs are encouraging, but they’re not the norm, something the Get Food Education in Every School campaign hopes to change.

“Healthy diets are critical to healthy lives but our children lack the knowledge to make the right food choices or the skills to create healthy, wholesome, and nutritious meals,” said Oliver.

It’s time to put the future on the right track.