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Our View: Healthy living starts in the home

Posted: August 22, 2009 7:28 p.m.
Updated: August 23, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Going to bed without dessert.

You probably associate the concept with your childhood. Do something rotten and you’ll be punished. No cherry-topped ice cream sundae for you.

Do you subject your own kids to the same treatment?

Nutritionists at our local schools would tell you it’s a bad idea.

“When we continue to reward with food, the message we give subtly or overtly is one of, ‘Do good, get food,’” said Joan Lucid, assistant superintendent of instruction in the Saugus Union School District.

“I’ve seen a teacher rewarding students in the classroom with Gummi Bears for good behavior,” said a parent in the Sulphur Springs Union School District. “That needs to stop.”

It needs to stop in the school and it needs to stop in the home, experts say, because all of those Gummi Bears add up.

As Signal reporter Tammy Marashlian reported in a three-part series last week, fully 23 percent of school children in Los Angeles County are obese and another 19 percent are moderately overweight.

That 23-percent obesity figure is up from 20 percent a decade ago. But it appears to be leveling off, now that our schools have taken steps to provide a better diet and healthier exercise programs.

But our schools can do only so much. Healthy diet and exercise needs to start at home.

It’s a tougher message for some than others, particularly for immigrants from cultures that equate body weight with beauty, in the opposite way most Americans do.

Neither extreme is healthy.

Nor is the notion that it’s OK for a kid to be fat because he’ll find his natural weight after puberty.

Bad eating habits in childhood carry over into adulthood. Kids need to be raised with good dietary and exercise habits if they’re to practice them in adulthood and employ them with their own children.

It’s not just that fat kids are more likely to die from a heart attack at age 40. There’s a host of health problems that arise from childhood obesity, such as asthma, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver, sleep apnea and weak bones.

Add to those the psychological challenges of depression, low self-esteem and stigmatization, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster that can make them less employable and less productive as adults, and more prone to suicide or premature death.

“It’s hard in a world where parents are working hard and sometimes work two jobs,” said Marianne Hamor, a Sulphur Springs administrator. “They come home and ... maybe fast food is handy.”

We’re a fast-food nation but we’re killing our kids when we serve them burgers and fries and shakes full of trans-fat and calories.

You can take comfort in knowing our public schools won’t feed it to them. School lunches are federally regulated and soda machines have been outlawed.

But the schools can’t stop kids from bringing unhealthy meals from home, and they can’t stop the PTA from raising funds with an old-fashioned bake sale.

They can and do encourage PTAs to throw out the old and ring in the new with fundraisers built around healthy activities such as bike races and jog-a-thons.

Tracy Fiscella is the nutritionist at the SCV School Food Services Agency, which provides lunches for all local elementary school districts.

Fiscella says the agency trains teachers to promote healthy eating habits and encourages parents to involve their kids in the food selection process.

Take them to the farmers market and find out where their food comes from. Pull out a recipe book — better yet, show your kids what recipes to download from the Internet — and make something together.

“Parents really need to step up and be partners,” Fiscella said. “If the kids have never seen broccoli, they’re not going to eat it at school.”

Some schools have taken Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Healthy California campaign several notches higher with some innovative exercise and nutrition programs.

At Sierra Vista Junior High, physical education instructor George Velarde has implemented a model program that really ought to be replicated throughout the Santa Clarita Valley and the state.

You probably remember what P.E. was like when you were in school.

You’d try to hit a baseball or softball during baseball season, regardless of whether you had any hand-eye coordination.

You’d play football or do gymnastics during football season.

You’d put somebody (or get put) into a headlock and call it wrestling.

And when it rained, you’d line up against a wall and try to nail each other in the head with a dodge ball (that has been outlawed because it was dangerous and stupid).

Those things don’t happen in P.E. at Sierra Vista.

In Velarde’s P.E. department, kids are exposed to a range of programs designed specifically to promote health and wellness.

One day it might be cardiovascular training on stair-steppers and ellipticals.

Another day it might be rock climbing or an exercise-along to an aerobics video or a virtual-reality bike race through scenic locations on a big screen.

“The kids are never bored,” Velarde said. “Every day is literally a new day.”

Not only does Sierra Vista have the top fitness scores in the SCV, but the school’s standardized test scores have improved dramatically as well, he noted.


Said Hamor of Sulphur Springs: “There’s research that shows that when kids are healthy, they learn better. They do better academically.”

So there you have it. Don’t do unto your kids what your parents and teachers did unto you.

Your kids will live longer and enjoy a healthier, happier and more productive life.



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