Making Food Part of the Program

I recently visited some after-school/youth development programs in my community. These are good programs, with good people doing good work to give young people healthy, positive environments and activities. All around, kids were playing games or sports, interacting with one another and with adults. It was wonderful to behold.

But there was a problem. When it came time for these same kids to have a snack, their choices came from vending machines loaded with chips, candy and sodas. “How can this be?” I thought. The answer I was given is that without adequate funding, these programs are struggling to keep their doors opened and adequate staffing to keep the children safe. There is no budget for “healthy” snacks, and so the vending machines are offered so the kids will “at least have something to eat.”

Almost every day it seems there is another article about another youth organization whose funding has been cut, so believe me, I do not doubt these are some very tough times for nonprofits serving these most vulnerable of populations. But it seems to me we are going to have to find a way to help these organizations to provide leadership not only in their arts, sports, and tutoring programs, but in the food choices they offer our children, if, indeed, we are going to successfully address the most pressing issues for this demographic.

In May, the Washington Post ran a five-article series on childhood obesity. The lead article , “Obesity Threatens a Generation,” did not mince words about the gravity of the situation:

“…In ways only beginning to be understood, being overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life. Virtually every major organ is at risk. The greater damage is probably irreversible.

Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians' offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.

With one in three children in this country overweight or worse, the future health and productivity of an entire generation -- and a nation -- could be in jeopardy.”

Thankfully, organizations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are funding research, education and programming to address this crisis. RWJF’s Leadership for Healthy Communities“ works with local and state government leaders because they make important decisions that affect people’s opportunities to eat healthy foods and be physically active within their communities.” This type of leadership—and funding—needs to trickle down to the local organizations serving the kids most at risk for developing overweight and obesity, so that there will be no more excuses for offering these children healthy sports programs and horrible food at the same time.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jul 16, 2008 in Education | Health | Youth | Permalink | Comments (1)



Posted by: Susan Herr