Guest blogger Chelsea Travis, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…
Kids around our nation are food insecure – meaning that they usually don’t eat all the nutritious food that is recommended for them and they do not know when or where their next meal is coming from. In particular Nashville, TN, has some unique struggles as it relates to food and children. Several areas around Nashville suffer from food deserts –places where there aren’t any reliable grocery stores in walking distance. This forces someone without good transportation to either bump around on public transportation with numerous grocery bags or just do without the foods that they need. This may mean that convenient stores and fast food restaurants become the main source of nutrition for families. Sadly, most know that it only takes a little bit of the food from these places to put your body in an unhealthy state.
Another interesting trend potentially affecting children’s health is the meager number of women who breast-feed their children. Nashville is ranked extremely low in the nation for breast-feeding. Studies show that nearly 60% of mothers in Nashville elect not to breast feed at all, and another significant portion do not continue to breast-feed up to the recommended 6 months. Babies who are not breast-fed could acquire certain illnesses and possibly make bad food decisions later on in life. When the mother chooses not to breast-feed this can keep the infant from receiving necessary nutrients that could be helpful for its growth.
When babies are breast-fed, they are able to decide when they are done eating because they respond to their bodies’ response to the portion of natural fats in their milk. Non breast-fed babies may not get this cue from formula and may not gain this instinct of regulating their own eating habits as older children and as adults.
One encouraging program that has been started in some local elementary schools, is the breakfast program. Every morning all the students eat breakfast together in their classrooms removing the stigma that a free breakfast is only for lower income students. This program has resulted in fewer tardies and absences. The breakfast served is fresh and nutritious with items such as fruit and whole-grain cereal.
Another very interesting dilemma that is plaguing our nation at large is the outrageously in-proportionate amount of land in the US that is dedicated to the growing of corn vs. the land that is used for growing fruits and vegetables.
About 96 million acres of corn is grown in the US every year. This is due in part to the enormous production of high fructose corn syrup, which is cheaply used in countless foods, and is highly subsidized by the government. My Plate, the US nutritional guideline, recommends that Americans eat about 25% of each major food group within each meal – with fruits & vegetable making up half of the whole plate. Comparatively, only about 1 million acres is dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables in US. Startling.
To find out more about these health issues, click here for a series of special reports on the Children’s Health Crisis reported by Nashville Public Television.