Tag Archives: healthy eating

Lace Up Your Sneakers and Get on the Path to Healthy Living

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

What do you usually do after school? Homework?  An extra-curricular activity? Maybe watch TV, play video games and log onto Facebook? You are not alone; many teens do the same.  But there are several effects of these behaviors, one being that when you’re doing these things, you’re not moving. So what? Well, without physical activity you begin to destroy your body, and if that doesn’t affect you now, it certainly will later.

Obesity puts you at risk of diabetes, heart attacks, depression and more. Although these conditions are more likely to affect obese people in their adulthood, children also face direct consequences of being obese.  For example, regardless of race and gender, obese children are more likely to be involved in bullying, which can result in anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

More than 23 million children and teens are obese or overweight in America today.  A recent study by Eric Finkelstein a health economist at Duke University, predicts that by 2030, more than 42 percent of the adult population will be obese.  Let’s work to lose that statistic!

Less physical activity, combined with increased portion sizes and a consequent increase in caloric intake, has resulted in spiked childhood obesity.  When you’re still growing and developing, it is normal for your body to gain a few pounds. What is not ‘normal’ is when the body takes in too many calories and produces too much fat, without any sort of compensation.  That’s right, you gotta eat less and exercise more to be healthy! Not only can exercise ward off sickness and keep you at a healthy weight, but it pumps good-mood hormones throughout your body, so you feel better about who you are and what you’re doing.

To combat the issue of portion sizes and increase focus on nutrition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently introduced a new ‘food guidance system’ to encourage healthy eating.  Say goodbye to the food pyramid…here comes the plate. MyPlate is designed by ‘cutting’ a plate into fifths, each a different size for a particular food group: (1) fruits and (2) veggies (which should take up HALF of your plate!), (3) proteins, (4) dairy (got milk?), and (5) grains. The goal of using a circle rather than the pyramid is to simulate meal building; by relating food to what it’s eaten off of, it’s easier to map out a meal.

Women and girls around the country are joining the movement and working to make changes and get moving. Michelle Obama, a major leading lady, has taken a stand against the rise in obesity in America. In creating the “Let’s Move!” campaign, Michelle is working to solve the problem of childhood obesity so that the experience of growing up can be healthier, and youthful dreams can be pursued. Goals of the program include better access to healthier foods in schools, better access to healthy food for families (including families on food stamps), and helping youth become more physically active.

Here are some suggestions on how to advance a healthier lifestyle for yourself and for others:

  1. Snacks are a great place to incorporate healthy foods into your diet. Try bringing baked chips to school instead of fried. Celery sticks too boring? Pair them with low-fat ranch dressing or peanut butter.
  2. Walk where you can. If you’re able, leave for school a bit earlier than usual and make your way by foot. Your body will thank you for it and so will your brain! (There’s new research evidence that walking to school helps stimulate brain function). Be sure to keep your bones strong through routine exercise, milk drinking, and nut eating.
  3. Join the Youth Advisory Board, and inspire healthy living! The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization committed to ending childhood obesity by 2015 through collaboration with food, fitness, and technology industries, is looking for applicants to join their Advisory Board and take action to stop childhood obesity.  Participants within this youth-led group are required to implement healthy changes within their communities and schools through educating their peers and neighbors.  To see if you’re qualified to apply (between the ages of 8 and 17, live in the U.S., etc.), check out the Healthier Generation website.
  4. If you live in the Boston area, you can get involved in the work that Sociedad Latina is doing to improve the quality of life in Roxbury, including addressing obesity concerns through the “We are What We Eat” Campaign. Girls in the campaign are working to bring salad bars and healthy, cultural foods into their school cafeterias.
  5. Get your parents involved; they can help change things with and for you. The USDA has initiated a Fresh Food and Vegetable Program (FFVP) to replace the junk food in schools with healthy snacks, resulting in positive health effects. There are still several schools that are not participating in this program. Have your parents check out your school and if they are not complying, petition for the FFVP at MomsRising.org so more cafeterias can transform what they’re serving, and who they’re serving it to.

So, get up, get out, and get moving girls! Start by checking out the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! curriculum, where you can learn how to get and stay active and healthy.

For information on issues related to obesity and healthy eating, see our Food Buzz article in the Spring/Summer issue of our print magazine entitled “The Secret Life of Lunch.” And check out our online interview with the activists at Sociedad Latina, with their campaign to bring healthier lunch choices to Boston teens in school.

Vote for Healthy: School Lunch Campaign

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

A lot of attention in the media is currently focused on the importance of healthy food for children and adolescents. Coverage ranges from Michelle Obama’s presidential initiative to lower childhood obesity in the nation from a staggering 20 percent to just 5 percent by 2030, to more local initiatives with new school regulations for serving healthier food. Since teens spend a great deal of time at school, healthier food in the cafeteria is an important change.

According to Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based organization working with Latino youth and families to end destructive cycles of poverty, health inequities, and lack of educational and professional opportunities among the Latino community, there is definitely much left to be desired in the average school cafeteria. For example, a recent crackdown in Cambridge Massachusetts for lax inspections in public school cafeterias yielded numerous health code violations, including animal droppings around the storage rooms of a cafeteria and a school freezer that was rusted and rotting.

While this situation may be extreme, it’s very common for the food offered in school cafeterias to be less than ideal in terms of being healthy. In response, youth activists at Sociedad Latina have taken on this issue and they are working to create healthier food options in school cafeterias in Boston public schools.  Vickie Miranda and Achly Esparra are two teen representatives for Sociedad’s School Lunch Campaign. According to Miranda, the School Lunch Campaign was launched with a mission focused on “eating healthy in schools because that’s where we spend most of our time, besides home. If we don’t eat [at school], we don’t have the energy to learn.”

Last year’s controversial finding by councilor-at-large John R. Connolly, that several Boston public schools had been storing foods past their expiration date,and serving them to students, was one of the catalysts that initially drove the Campaign.

Both Miranda and Vickie believe that most Boston Public School (BPS) students don’t even eat school lunch. They explained: “Some students skip lunch altogether and some leave school to go to Burger King or Subway to get food, and then come back to school.” Either way, they aren’t getting a good lunch.

Esparra’s role as a dancer is one of the reasons she feels that working on the Campaign is incredibly important. “I got involved because of my dancing. I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and all things that involve healthy habits…especially eating, because I love food!” Miranda said: “I got involved because I eat school lunch. I eat at school because I know I won’t be able to eat anything else during school hours. And for me, I want to eat healthy. And if the food at school isn’t healthy, meaning that the food that I eat most of the time isn’t healthy, then I’m not healthy.”

The girls would like to see more healthy and great-tasting foods in their cafeteria. Esparra noted that they “want healthy food that tastes good, not just healthy food that tastes awful.”  Miranda added, ”In my school we have fruit, such as oranges and apples, but I would prefer more variety of fruit. Like at one point we had grapes, but then they disappeared.”

You may wonder how a teen-led campaign facilitated change in public schools. First, the teens started talking about what they wanted to change, and how they thought they could make that change. From there, Esparra and Miranda passed out 300 surveys at schools and in the community that asked students directly what kind of food and changes they would like to see in their cafeterias.  More than 70 percent of the respondents were in favor of establishing a salad/fruit bar in their school. Esparra and Miranda, alongside their peers, then began having conversations with their school cafeteria managers and principals to build support. In the early fall, they presented their idea to expand the salad bars in high schools to the director of the food and nutrition services.

The Campaign has been very successful. It has established salad bars in two new high schools, with more planned for the future.  In fact, Miranda and Esparra have secured a commitment from the BPS director of food and nutrition services to establish salad bars in all BPS high schools.  Miranda believes that they are off to a good start, but said:  “There are millions of others schools, millions of other students, who are still not eating healthy, not eating while at school, or leaving school to eat.  It is really important to try to get healthy foods and to try and keep students in school and keep them awake in classes.” In addition, Esparra would like to more see more food prepared in the cafeteria, as opposed to microwave meals, because she believes that “cooking real food is also part of eating healthy.”

Miranda and Esparra attribute much of the success of the School Lunch Campaign to Sociedad Latina’s genuine concern for the health of young people.  And they feel it’s important for girls to be activists in their own communities because “it shows that we’re trying to do something—we’re trying to make a change [for the better.] When people see that a girl is doing something about [a problem], it makes them think that at least someone cares about what’s going on in the community.”

Miranda complemented the thought: “Since we’re teenagers, people think that we don’t take anything seriously.” Miranda often sees the ‘she’s-not-gonna-take-this-job-seriously-because-she’s-a-teenager’ mentality. She stated: “But then, people see what we do here and they see how we take it seriously, so they see that the stereotypes aren’t correct.”

Sociedad staff member Melissa Luna reflected:  “I think it’s very important for adults to act as allies for our young women and encourage their leadership and participation.  In most schools, students and their abilities are taken for granted.  Every youth has the potential to become a leader and make their school a better place.  These young women have take on this charge and created a positive change for both themselves and their peers.”

Esparra advises: If you want to inspire change in your own community, whether it’s in your school cafeteria or elsewhere, “find an interest…My interest is me; I want to be healthy; I want to be fit. I think that finding motivation is the first move, the first step that you need to take to move forward.”

So do some reflective thinking, girls, and decide what you want to change in your community, then figure out your first step.  By moving one step at a time, in collaboration with others, you too can change the negative stereotypes of teens—and create positive change in your community.  Go to it!

For more information on efforts to increase healthy lunches in schools, see “The Secret Life of Lunch: Teen Voices Goes Beyond the Mystery Meat” in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the Teen Voices print magazine (pp. 19-21).

For more information on Sociedad Latina and their School Lunch Campaign, see: http://sociedadlatinaschoollunch.blogspot.com/p/sociedad-latina-school-lunch-goals.html