Driving home recently, I heard a story on the radio about a state commissioner wanting to reduce restrictions on “junk food” offered in public schools. Surprisingly, this story jarred a long-forgotten memory from my childhood…
It was a warm, spring day in 9th grade. I found myself unable to resist the temptation of the cafeteria’s newly installed soda machine. I slipped the usual two quarters my father had given me (to buy milk at lunch) into the machine’s slot, and watched as a can of delicious, sparkling, grape soda came tumbling out. Something about having the soda machine right on campus, watching other students and faculty alike using it to get their soft-drinks, my 14-year-old mind became convinced that not only was it okay to replace milk with soda, but that it might even be the “right” and healthy thing to do. After all, if my principal and teachers had sanctioned the soda machine, it must be okay!
Just like I was decades ago, children today are vulnerable to these false impressions. Kids are apt to believe that whatever is given to them by responsible authority figures like school teachers, administrators, and parents must be good for them. So, as adults, we need to remember this, and set good examples through the way that we shop, cook, and eat with our kids. Children are very susceptible to developing (hard-to-change) preferences or dependence on unhealthy foods, because of sweeteners and other additives that can truly be addictive. And even worse, it’s these poor lifestyle habits that then lead to obesity and its complications.
Children eat what we serve to them, without the maturity or knowledge to question otherwise. As responsible adults, we are obligated to set good examples and teach them right from wrong. Since kids spend such a large part of their lives in the classroom, schools also need to provide wholesome food choices and set healthy standards. As a pediatric specialist that specializes in the digestive health of children, I feel strongly that children need adult supervision and guidance about making proper choices when it comes to good nutrition.