Nutrition education is a comprehensive health education program that empowers children and adults with the knowledge and skills to make healthy food and life choices. Children receive, on average, less than 8 hours per year far below the 40 to 50 years that experts recommend. When taught by trained professionals, nutrition education can help educate children on making nutritious choices as well as build a foundation to shape healthy behaviors.
Having a registered dietician, or an expert on nutrition, come in to teach nutrition education can be far more impactful than having teachers incorporate into their teaching plans, even if it is only once a week. Incorporating important life skills such as teaching students how to prepare healthy well-balanced meals on a budget into the curriculum will help kids from low-income families as well as young adults that have financial strains. Children in a low-income household in which the head of household buys what they can afford, typically processed and unhealthy foods, can learn how to decrease food cost through strategic food buying and meal planning which in turn lowers fast food consumption. Having a hands-on approach, teach children how to grow their own food, having open discussions with them, exposing them to new foods that they may not otherwise be exposed to can really make a difference in a child’s life. I can recall being in first grade and learning about new foods. My teacher would have us color a picture of the food or she would read us a story about the food then she would bring that fruit or veggie in for us to try. My parents wouldn’t have thought to make me try star fruit or kiwi, but because I was exposed to it at school I asked my parents to start buying me those fruits. There are plenty of ways we can make nutrition education fun for kids, but still be impactful.
Risky behaviors such as using anabolic steroids, diet pills, and muscle building supplements have been shown to decrease among students that participate in programs that put an emphasis on nutrition and substance abuse prevention education. Childhood obesity is currently a growing epidemic in the United States and educating our youth on nutrition can help eliminate the rising statistic. Nutrition education can also help young students that are developing eating disorders such as binge eating, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa. Many young athletes that participate in sports such as track often develop eating disorders due to the pressure to be lean, but by educating them on how they can maintain their weight in a healthy way we can help prevent and treat eating disordered eating. Teaching children how to make responsible and healthy food choices empowers them with the tools they need to function as a healthy adult later in life.
Malnutrition can increase disease risk and produce cravings for drugs or alcohol. Nutrition is even a vital part to treating those who struggle with substance abuse. We can use nutrition to improve the brain’s ability to form connections and rearrange old ones; addiction essentially is an example of this. Adequate nutrition can help the brain replenish its neurotransmitters and re-stabilize healthy neurotransmission during recovery. There are so many minute things in our bodies and in our lives that nutrition impacts, hence why it is so vital that we begin teaching children from an early age how to treat their bodies.