As one of the nutrition educators for the school district’s Network for
a Healthy California, I wanted to clarify a few issues brought up by
Joseph Burrell in his Feb. 4 letter to the editor, “We’re more
concerned about student health than education.”
First, the school district does not spend a penny of its general fund monies on anything related to the Network’s efforts. The program is funded entirely through a grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and administered through a block grant to the state. Our half-million-dollar allocation actually helps the school district in funding, including some personnel positions, therefore avoiding additional layoffs that contribute to the economic problems of our county, and little things that increase community participation at our schools, including back-to-school nights and open houses.
Second, all nutrition lessons delivered meet state grade-level subject standards. This means that nutrition educators conduct science, language arts or math lessons, depending on the classrooms they visit. I have frequently had students calculate intake vs. expended calories, write prose, or conduct science experiments that coincide with their classroom work while delivering my nutritional message.
Third, and most importantly, research study after research study has indicated that our children’s health has a direct bearing on their ability to perform academically. The University of Minnesota, following a group of children from infancy through their primary grades, found that better nourished children performed significantly better in school, partly because they enter school earlier and thus have more time to learn, but mostly because of greater learning productivity per year of schooling.
The cost–benefit analysis suggested that every dollar invested in an early childhood nutrition program could potentially return at least $3 worth of gains in academic achievement. Another study by San Diego State University indicated that students who received 45 minutes of physical activity a day out-performed students who did not by 50 percent on state academic tests. Yet, due to state budget cuts in education, our school district was forced to eliminate a P.E. teacher, and may be looking at even more reductions in school-related physical activities.
Del Norte County ranks highest in California for food insecurity with hunger. This means that more people in our county do not know where their next meal will come from than anywhere else in California, and that includes many of our students. Most of us know it is very difficult to concentrate with a growling stomach, and our district’s food services program helps remedy this problem as well, as long as students know they can take advantage of it. Nutrition education helps spread the word.
This is all aside from the fact that the high percentage of obesity-related medical problems that are in epidemic proportions are keeping our youth from reaching their full potential as adults.
So while it may seem to some that a nutrition education program might be a waste of money during difficult economic times, all research points to the contrary, and we are lucky as a community to have a school district that cares enough about its students to continue to support such a program.
Patti Rommel is a nutrition educator in the Del Norte Unified School District.