This article was originally published in The Scope of New London, Connecticut.
Ten years ago, Browns Mill Elementary School outside Atlanta, Georgia decided to go on a nutrition program. Sugar was completely banned from being served on the school’s campus—even birthday cupcakes were turned away—and there was an effort to eat more whole foods in the lunch and breakfast programs.
The results? The school found that scores went up fifteen percent, and discipline problems went down twenty-three percent. And instead of costing the school system more money, eating more vegetables and fruit turned out to be cheaper. The school saved $425,000 in nine years. This program is being replicated right now in seventeen other Atlanta area schools.
Let’s take a look at why such simple changes could have such huge effects on the lives of young people. Just what is sugar doing do our children anyway?
For breakfast, we feed our children foods that are loaded with sugar, white flour (remember that simple carbohydrates become sugar almost immediately upon digestion), food colorings (which are linked to behavior problems), and flavor additives (which are unknown chemicals). The sugar load of a breakfast with cereal and low-fat milk is intense, even before you add juice with added sugar, toast with white flour, pop tarts, or pancakes.
There is often no protein or fat in the meal, which would have helped to slow down sugar digestion and keep us fuller longer. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any nutrition at all, aside from a few low quality synthetic added vitamins. Where are the real vitamins, minerals, proteins, fatty acids, and nutrients that equip our cells to keep us healthy? Where’s the real food?
We load up our young people with sugar and send them off to school. With the spike in blood sugar levels from breakfast, the students are probably bouncing off the wall. But as quickly as their blood sugar level went up, it crashes. The students feel moody, depressed, tired, and are unable to focus.
The students can’t wait for lunch, where nutrient depleted meals like french toast sticks, pizza, or chicken nuggets might perk them back up for a while. Or maybe they packed a lunch with white bread, cold cuts with added preservatives, peanut butter and jelly, potato chips, cookies, or lunchables, which have no nutritional value. The spikes and crashes continue through the evening, when the parents might be too busy to cook and opt to go to a drive through. Twenty five percent of meals are eaten at fast food restaurants, twenty five percent of meals are eaten in cars, and twenty five percent of meals are eaten in front of the television.
We are putting our students on a blood sugar roller coaster when we don’t eat balanced meals with whole foods. Every meal should have protein, fats, and carbs—ideally from unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, and meat—to give our cells the fuel they need to maintain our health.
While this situation may not effect all children, and it may not cause all behavioral problems, it is certainly plausible, if not an altogether common occurrence. Ann Cooper, a food service administrator, said, “we need to teach our students that when they use sugar they go up and down, just like with crack.”
Let’s look at a quote from a student who attended Browns Mill. “I was one of the heavier students in elementary school, so I really lost a lot of weight and just became healthier overall with the changes. Kids were hyper, bouncing off the wall and those things changed.”
Is there any research that corroborates these findings? Alexander Schauss’ Diet, Crime, and Deliquency reported research showing that removing sugar from a child’s diet directly causes grades to increase. Research by Dr. William Crook shows that sugar leads to hyperactivity (and if you’re interested, he also attempts to explain the relevant digestive process in detail).
Americans eat 153 pounds of sugar a year, and it constitutes the largest source of calories in our diet. Teenage boys consume more than other demographics, estimated at more than a cup a day.
If that doesn’t make you believe we’re at a crisis point, consider the rise of type two diabetes among adolescents. Formerly known as “adult onset diabetes,” the rates of this disease are skyrocketing. It is estimated that of the generation born in the year 2000, one third of caucasians and fully one half of African Americans and Hispanics will develop type two diabetes—many of them before they graduate high school. The implications of this growing population of people dependent on daily insulin injections is frightening.
And I haven’t even explained how sugar consumption causes weight gain and obesity, leads to fungal infections and parasite infections, impedes digestion, steals vitamins from our cells during digestion, and suppresses vitamin c circulation and inhibits the immune system. Eating large quantities of sugar is unnatural. Sugar—along with its cousin white flour—is the foundation of an unhealthy lifestyle.
And sugar is only one of the nutrient depleted garbage you can expect to find in processed foods! In the cereal, chips, cookies, juices, breads, soda, and prepackaged frozen foods we feed our children daily, you can find MSG (a neurotoxin), trans fats, food colorings, and artificial and natural flavors (unknown chemicals with minimal safety testing requirements). Let alone the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides we spray on our food annually in the US.
Our society is facing a nutrition crisis as the first generations of children have the opportunity to grow up eating nothing but processed foods. Relearning how to eat healthfully is going to be critical to the future of our society, and schools have the opportunity to either be powerful platforms to initiate positive change or footholds for the movement to institutionalize processed garbage food. The Browns Mill Elementary School should be applauded.
Sources: Fox News article: Principal Says Banning Sugar Made Students Smarter, January 2009; Sean Croxton on sugar relevant behavior issues; Ann Cooper on school lunches; Dr. Nancy Appleton and the Holistic Pediatric Association on sugar consumption in children