Educating young people about how their eating habits affect not just their own health, but other people’s too, as well as the health of the environment, can help improve student food choices and cut obesity rates, according to the Center for Ecoliteracy. Included: Ways to get students involved in more healthful eating.
The mission of the Center for Ecoliteracy is to help more schools embrace sustainability, including respecting the environment and one’s well-being. As part of that mission, called schooling for sustainability, the center stresses more healthful eating in schools as part of students’ education. Besides improving school lunches, the center has helped develop school gardens and integrated ecological principles and sustainability into school curricula.
Center for Ecoliteracy communications’ director Lisa Bennett talked with Education World about how the center’s efforts are related to reducing obesity levels in young people.
Education World: We’ve seen some staggering statistics about obesity among young people. How can educators use that information?
Lisa Bennett: Educators can do a great deal to help turn obesity statistics around by teaching young people about the connections between food and their own health, as well as the health of the environment. We’ve found that when students have a solid understanding of food, food choices, and food systems, they are more likely to make wise food decisions.
The Center for Ecoliteracy offers several resources to help with that. “Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment” is a conceptual framework for K-12 teachers that provides key concepts drawn from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy; essential questions to engage students; and a rich assortment of sample activities.
We also offer discussion guides to two relevant documentaries: Food, Inc., the 2009 Academy Award nominee featuring Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and Nourish: Food + Community, featuring Cameron Diaz and Jamie Oliver, now airing on PBS stations.
The Center for Ecoliteracy also recently published an updated edition of its popular guide, Rethinking School Lunch, which provides a blueprint for changing the meals served at schools.
EW: What kinds of ad campaigns might be effective in helping kids eat better and be more active?
Bennett: We’re not experts on advertising campaigns, but we certainly have found from our work in schools that some of the most effective ambassadors for eating healthy, nutritious lunches are young people themselves. We’ve also seen them suggest selling points adults might not have considered.
EW: It’s one thing to offer students more healthful food choices at home and in school -- but how do you convince them to select those foods?
Bennett: After working on these issues for nearly 20 years, we’ve learned that one of the most important answers is: Engage them! Get them in the garden and enlist their help in growing, harvesting, and preparing food. If they’re a part of the process, they will be much more likely to try it.
Another key answer is that there needs to be a comprehensive program of change. That reality is affirmed by a significant new study from the University of California, Berkeley, about a program that the Center for Ecoliteracy helped design and implement. It found that when young people are involved in growing, cooking, and sharing fresh, healthy food -- while learning about it in the curriculum -- they will be more likely to develop lifelong healthy eating habits, and values consistent with sustainable living.
EW: How can teachers and parents make eating better and exercising more fun?
Bennett: Again, getting young people engaged in the growing and preparation of food is fun, so that’s one of the best ways. We also have found that young people genuinely appreciate good food served in a pleasant environment. In fact, the football team at one school we visited literally stood up and gave a standing ovation to the cafeteria staff after they revamped their lunch program.
EW: Do you think it’s time for a federal ban on fast-food ads aimed at kids?
Bennett: We certainly could have an interesting debate about that. But from the Center for Ecoliteracy’s perspective, education seems to offer a much more productive and promising path to change, because there’s so much educators can do to change young people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior in relation to food. We encourage educators who are interested in learning more to apply to one of our summer seminars and sign up for our monthly newsletter.
This e-interview with Lisa Bennett is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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