Here’s what we were able to find out, and why it should be included in every lesson plan
Depending on where you are in the United States, your child has either returned to school or will be going back sometime soon. And that means they’ll be learning plenty of history, math, literature, and science.
But how many classrooms are having lessons about the importance of proper nutrition?
You may do your best to teach your children to eat their fruits, vegetables, and iron-rich foods, but as we’ll discuss later it takes much more than some gentle prodding to get them to change their behavior.
In this piece, we’ll look at the numbers of how many children receive adequate nutrition education in schools, and why it’s so important in the first place.
Phones down and heads up, school is now in session.
Nutrition Education Has Decreased in Recent Years
The National Center of Education Statistics in 1996 reported that 99 percent of all U.S. public schools offered some type of nutrition education somewhere in their curriculum, and that nearly half of districts required such lessons.
Since then, the number of schools that offer or require those lessons has plummeted, as has the total amount of time dedicated to nutrition education. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 74.1 percent of schools included nutrition in their curriculums in 2014, down from 84.6 percent in 2000.
And even then, only eight hours per year were dedicated to nutrition. The CDC says it takes about 40 to 50 hours of education per year to create behavioral change, such as healthy eating habits in children.
There’s very little data available on if and how those numbers have changed in more recent years for elementary school students, but a 2018 report found that most states have tried to increase nutrition education in high schools.
But again, either very little time was dedicated to the topic or schools only touched on a few topics. The CDC says there’s 22 key nutrition and dietary behavior topics that should be taught in schools, and very few states covered those in their curriculum.
And in nearly 40 states, there was not an education teacher certified in nutrition or who had received some sort of professional development in nutrition in half of all schools. Most of the time, the nutrition curriculum was developed by a teacher who relied on outside resources, such as nonprofits or government websites.
Why Should Children Be Taught About Nutrition in Schools?
Imagine if children only received eight hours of writing education per year. Odds are, many wouldn’t be able to form a proper sentence. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen with nutrition in recent years.
The CDC reported in 2019 that 19.3 percent of U.S. children were obese, which is triple what it was in the 1970s.
“We don’t teach children how to read, write or do math in one period in the ninth grade, but that’s what we do with food and other health issues,” Lorraine Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Oakland, CA, told a publication in 2019. “So it’s not shocking we’re in dire straits when it comes to nutrition.”
Unsurprisingly, according to the CDC, obesity rates decreased for children with higher education rates.
Let’s Eat Healthy, a California-based nonprofit that aims to teach children the importance of good eating habits, said early childhood nutrition education can lead to:
- Increased nutrient intakes
- Better health outcomes
- Higher performance on tests
- Improved grades and knowledge retention
- Lowered instances of absenteeism
In other words, if children know better they’ll do better.
It’s one of the many reasons why we provide comprehensive education on our website about how to treat and prevent anemia, so that people can build lifelong habits that can lead to better health.