“An apple a day…”


Katharina Spöth, Writer

Grabbing a family size pack of Goldfish and opening a can of Red Bull takes maybe twenty seconds of work to “prepare” something that some people may call a “meal”.

At the same time, two out of three persons in the United States are diagnosed overweight or obese according to the National Department of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. That this is caused by an unhealthy eating behavior instead of having a balanced diet including well sized portions of the essential food groups is something most of the people learn since pre-school.

But why do people and students still decide to make unhealthy choices?

Krystal Norton, who is a health teacher at BFA, as well as one of the school’s nurses Jodi Walker, explained some of the reasons and the impact daily nutrition has on our lifes.

“I’ll be honest, as a health teacher, talking about nutrition with kids feels a little bit hopeless. In general people don’t believe those things and really don’t think nutrition has that much of an impact. In general in America people don’t necessarily eat to be healthy or eat to be well, they choose their food because it tastes good,” Norton said.

The effects of what we eat (and drink!) even show in everybody’s general mood.

“A poor nutrition is going to affect being able to have the energy to start the day and to focus in the classroom. it’s obviously affecting mood and even factors like anxiety and depression. If I’m feeling anxious and I’m drinking Red Bull, basically adding sugar and caffeine to that, that doesn’t allow me to slow myself down and really think about what I need related to anxiety and stress. A person’s behavior would probably be a lot more calm and consistent if they had balanced nutrition throughout the day,” Norton said.

Also, for people who don’t feel any mental or physical issues caused by food, it’s worth to have a look at their diet.

“If a person is a healthy weight they are like oh I can eat anything I want because I’m not gaining weight while your internal organs might be saying something different. Sure, you might be a good weight, you might be an athlete and play sports but what are you doing to your heart? What are you doing to your liver? What are you doing to your brain ? I think here are many kids at BFA even top athletes, that could have that extra edge to be a better athlete, even in be the best athlete if they took more care of their diet,” Norton said.

Especially highly processed food often contains a lot of not nutritious sugars, fats and salts which are created to lead us to eat more than is good for our bodies. But to change eating habits can be a challenge, because since childhood our body got used to what we eat. That means if we always ate for example a lot of sugar, our body remembers this and develops a real addiction. Children “set the foundation for lifelong habits in their youth, making junk food particularly hazardous to their well-rounded development,” Alissa Fleck  wrote in her article “How Junk Food Affects Children”.

This phenomena is confirmed by several scientific studies and shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Parents are modeling this behavior. If they started off with sugar at a very young age they get used to that and that’s what they crave because it’s an addiction that they don’t get from the healthy choices, ” Walker said.

For a lot of kids it’s difficult to get access to enough healthy foods because of personal as well as financial backgrounds.

“Parents are busy, there are a lot of students here that are potentially taking care of their own meals. And if they don’t cook that means that they opening up a freezer and putting a meal into a microwave which we know processed food is not nearly as healthy as fresh food, ” Norton said.

There are also some families who just suffer from the fact that in the United States fresh and unprocessed food often seems a lot more expensive although that isn’t always the case. Especially on beverages, you can waste money without getting any valuable nutrition.

“We can do as much education as we want but the reality is that these sugary things are much more accessible. There are all these teenagers who go and buy these energy drinks that are expensive and instead of carrying a water bottle and we know the water fountains where you can fill your bottle up, ” Walker said and also mentioned the highly concerning effects of caffeine and sugar loaded energy drinks.

“They [the students] amp themselves up and and their pulse goes skyrockening and by the end of the day they come flying downhill because all that energy in the caffeine is plummeting them. Social media make it look so inviting: all these energy drinks are going to give you the energy to climb up a mountain but really it’s going to give you this fast energy and then you’re going to go crashing. People are getting used to having so much caffeine and then they need it. Otherwise they get headaches and the whole thing that goes along with it. It’s an addiction. Caffeine is classified as a drug,” Walker said.

That’s why it’s even more important for schools to offer students a balanced food supply. To enforce this, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the USDA made policy briefs and demands on cafeterias making food healthier a few years ago. The cafeterias now have to use whole wheat products and to every meal at least one portion of fruits/ vegetables has to be offered.

“When the change first happened, a lot of students dug their feet in the ground and said they weren’t going to adhere to this. It was a learning curve for everybody and it was a tough time. There was a little decline in lunch. [The student’s reactions] was at first very negative. It was hard for a high school student who had never had to come by with that. But now the years have passed and the elementary students are coming up already knowing these rules, it’s a much smoother transition and our veggie bars are empty at the end of the day. The more they’re eating here the more they are realizing: it’s not a bad thing,” Jennifer Bombardier, who is the on-site manager at BFA’s cafeteria, said.

Many mostly young people are not aware of the serious consequences that unhealthy eating habits can cause. Not only short term effects but also chronic illnesses which last the whole life can be triggered. Type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks… the list goes on for miles.

“I wish people in general not just students fully understood how much nutrition plays in our entire lives, our energy level, our mood, the ability to fight disease, even connections to cancer, lifestyle diseases that affect us when we get older and heart diseases. Most people don’t see the importance of nutrition,” Norton said.

Although the schools can try anything to give students access to a healthy and balanced

diet, at the end it’s still everybody’s own responsibility whether they decide for junk food that maybe satisfies craving for one moment or for a healthier alternative what sets up the base for a healthy, strong and happy body and mind your whole life long.

Goldfish and Redbull?

No thanks. I’ll pamper my worthy body with some rich nuts, regularly, nutrition-packed and tasty meals and the source of life- called water.