All parents know that it is difficult to get kids to eat right, but not everyone realises quite how important it is. Sam Kass - a food entrepreneur, former White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition – argues that students who aren’t fed correctly are “literally going hungry” and will ultimately struggle to succeed. The reality of the situation is that kids in many developed nations, Hong Kong included, don’t always eat at the weekend. There are no meals at the weekend at home. Reasons for this problem are complex and include everything from poverty-induced food insecurity to parents simply not being around enough to ensure that kids don’t live primarily off junk food. Scavenged snacks from a kitchen don’t count and we sometimes can’t rely on kids to make a smart decision. We get tempted and so do they. So how can this child then focus on trigonometry or modern American poetry when they get to school on Monday morning?
In developed nations, poor nutrition is the primary cause of preventable deaths and disease. In Hong Kong, this doesn’t always mean kids not eating at all (although this is sometimes the case); it also refers to those who fill up on cheap, unhealthy calories and foods rich in salt and sugar. Kids who start life without decent access to nutritious food and sensible food education become adults who die far too young from obesity, strokes, complications resulting from diabetes, lifestyle cancers and a host of other problems related to poor nutrition.
Kass argues that schools should offer a nutritious breakfast to those from lower income backgrounds (one rich in milk and fruit but low in salt and sugar) as so many kids don’t have access to this at home. Children that eat well have a lower rate of obesity, a better immune system (which means fewer visits to the school nurse), better behaviour and attendance, less tardiness and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Often, all it takes is the knowledge that there is a good meal waiting at school. Children who are not fed well demonstrate lower math and reading scores by the third grade, by the eleventh grade they are more likely to be required to repeat at least one year of schooling, and research suggests that kids of any age who do not enjoy at nutritious breakfast have poor cognitive function overall.
To hear more about what Sam Kass has to say, check out his 2015 TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/sam_kass_want_to_teach_kids_well_feed_them_well#t-291503) or follow him on Twitter at @chefsamcass. British chef Jamie Oliver makes similar compelling points in his 2010 lecture (https://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver). School nutrition is a battle, but the first step is recognising how pervasive the problem is.
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