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Promoting Lifelong Healthy Eating
Most young people in the United States make poor eating choices that put them at risk for health problems. Establishing healthy eating habits at a young age is critical because changing poor eating patterns in adulthood can be difficult. Schools can help young people improve their eating habits by implementing effective policies and educational programs.
Benefits of Healthy Eating
- Prevents childhood and adolescent health problems such as obesity, eating disorders, dental caries, and iron deficiency anemia.
- Helps young people grow, develop, and do well in school.
- May help prevent health problems later in life, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke---the three leading causes of death.
Consequences of Unhealthy Eating
- Chronically undernourished children are more likely to become sick, miss class, and score lower on tests.
- Research suggests that not having breakfast can affect childrens intellectual performance.
- Poor eating habits and inactivity are the root causes of overweight and obesity. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years.
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia---which can cause severe health problems and even death--- are increasing among young people.
- Poor diet and inactivity cause at least 300,000 deaths among U.S. adults each year.
Eating Habits of the Nation's Youth
- More than 84% of young people eat too much fat, and more than 91% eat too much saturated fat.
- Only one in five young people eats the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Fifty-one percent of children and adolescents eat less than one serving of fruit a day, and 29% eat less than one serving a day of vegetables that are not fried.
- The average calcium intake of adolescent girls is about 800 mg a day, considerably less than the Recommended Dietary Allowance for adolescents of 1,200 mg of calcium a day.
- One in five students aged 15--18 regularly skips breakfast.
- Eight percent of high school girls take laxatives or vomit to lose or keep from gaining weight, and 9% take diet pills. Harmful weight-loss practices have been reported among girls as young as 9 years old.
Schools are ideally suited to give children and adolescents the skills and support they need to adopt healthy eating behaviors for life.
- More than 95% of all children and adolescents aged 5--17 are enrolled in school.
- Schools can offer many opportunities for young people to practice healthy eating.
- Teachers, food service personnel, and other staff can contribute their expertise and model appropriate eating behaviors.
In collaboration with experts from universities, state and federal agencies, voluntary organizations, and professional associations, CDC has developed guidelines to help schools implement effective nutrition policies and educational programs. Guidelines for School Health Programs to Promote Lifelong Healthy Eating is based on an extensive review of research and practice.
What is healthy eating?
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gives the following advice:
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Balance the food you eat with physical activity.
- Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.
- Choose a diet that is low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and is moderate in sugars, salt, and sodium.
CDC's Guidelines for Schools to Promote Lifelong Healthy Eating
The CDC guidelines state that school-based nutrition education programs are most likely to be effective when they:
- Help young people learn skills (not just facts).
- Give students repeated chances to practice healthy eating.
- Make nutrition education activities fun.
- Involve teachers, administrators, families, community leaders, and students in delivering strong, consistent messages about healthy eating as part of a coordinated school health program.
The guidelines include seven recommendations for ensuring a quality school program to promote lifelong healthy eating.
Seek input from all members of the school community to develop a coordinated school nutrition policy that promotes healthy eating through classroom lessons and a supportive school environment. The policy should commit the school to
- Provide adequate time for nutrition education.
- Offer healthy, appealing foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat grain products) wherever food is available and discourage the availability of foods high in fat, sodium,and added sugars (such as soda, candy, and fried chips) on school grounds and as part of fund-raising activities.
- Discourage teachers from using food to discipline or reward students.
- Provide adequate time and space for students to eat meals in a pleasant, safe environment.
- Establish links with professionals who can provide counseling for nutritional problems, refer families to nutrition services, and plan health promotion activities for staff.
Implement nutrition education designed to help students adopt healthy eating behaviors as part of a sequential, comprehensive health education curriculum that begins in preschool and continues through secondary school. Such education should:
- Help students learn specific nutrition-related skills, such as how to plan a healthy meal and compare food labels.
- Ensure that students also learn general health skills, such as how to assess their health habits, set goals for improvement, and resist social pressures to make unhealthy eating choices.
Provide nutrition education through activities that are fun, participatory,developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant. These activities should:
- Emphasize the positive, appealing aspects of healthy eating rather than the harmful effects of unhealthy eating.
- Present the benefits of healthy eating in the context of what is already important to students.
- Give students many chances to taste foods low in fat, sodium, and added sugars and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Coordinate school food service with nutrition education and with other components of the school health program to reinforce messages about healthy eating.
Program Staff Training
Provide staff who are involved in nutrition education with adequate preservice and ongoing in-service training that focuses on teaching strategies for promoting healthy behaviors.
Family and Community Involvement
Involve family members and the community in supporting and reinforcing nutrition education.
Regularly evaluate the programs effectiveness in promoting healthy eating and make changes as appropriate.