Reading & Riding—a Really Good Idea

The “Read & Ride” program in Ward Elementary School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is so simple, it is simply brilliant. This NBC Today Show segment below frames it as a way for educators to solve the (classroom management) problem of “fidgety kids.” However, the power of reading while riding (on donated stationary bikes) goes well beyond addressing classroom management issues. It promotes “action-based learning” which feeds the body and the mind. No bikes? No problem. Schools around the country are using bouncy balls, standing desks, bungee cords—anything to provide a vehicle through which students can “expel energy,” as described in the video:

While the report links student participation in Read and Ride (at least three times per week) with increased rates in reading proficiency, the program has much deeper and broader implications for children (and adults). Increasing students’ physical movement during (and throughout) the school day addresses the serious challenges faced by children today: Rising rates of physical inactivity and obesity-related illnesses. In fact, several studies report that such cardiovascular activity increases brain function and has a direct positive effect on academic performance (see chapters 1 and 5 in Healthy Teens, Healthy Schools: How Media Literacy Education Can Renew Education in the United States).

What is there not to like about the Read and Ride program? If you use your stationary bike at home as a clothes hanger more than you use it as a piece of fitness equipment, consider donating it to a good cause. In fact, you can donate yours right now to a high needs school in South Carolina on Donorschoose.org

Afterall, there is a lot riding on the health of children in the United States.

Fed Up with the Obesity Crisis

If you haven’t seen the 2014 documentary, Fed Up, we highly recommend that you set aside 92 minutes of your time and snuggle up on the couch with a big bowl of something healthy. Written and produced by Stephanie Soechtig, this film highlights the obesity epidemic in the United States, and how it poses significant physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges particularly for children in the United States.

If you don’t mind us spoiling the substance, keep reading.

Katie Couric’s voice guides us through a heartbreaking and informative journey that focuses on the role of the food industry in sickness and in health. A plethora of shocking statistics are presented by a list of leading nutritionists, scientists, doctors, politicians, and lobbyists. President Bill Clinton, Dr. David Kessler, Michael Pollan, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Senator Tom Harkin are just a few of the contributing voices.

Food labels are revealing in what they conceal. The number of unpronounceable, Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.19.55 AMaddictive, and genetically modified substances overpower the few, if any, whole and healthful ingredients. While nutrition labels report the daily percentage of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other vitamins and minerals, food companies strategically omit from food labels the percentage of sugar.  Could it be that food manufacturers and distributors do not want us to see that the daily sugar intake recommendations end at 25 grams and most packaged foods exceed that in one serving? It is also highly significant that the human brain responds to sugar in a similar way that it does to cocaine.

From 1977 to 2000, Americans have doubled their dietary sugar intake. “Healthy” products often contain the same if not more sugar than some junk food items, and Fed Up graphically illustrates some astounding comparisons.

       Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.31.46 AM The film also weaves together personal stories of three obese children with physical conditions that have severely diminished their quality of life. One young man is told by his doctor that his life is severely at risk because of his weight. Another is a victim of school bullies because of his size.

Fed Up is a story of disheartening truth. However the message is not primarily to point fingers. It is an historical analysis with the purpose of leading audiences to a greater—perhaps even profound—understanding of the urgency of the obesity crisis. It is a call to conscientiousness and a catalyst for change.

The future is in our individual and collective hands. What will you do to consciously choose health? One way is to take the Fed Up Challenge: Sugar Free for 10 DaysHealthy Teens has joined. We too are fed up!

Allies to Future Generations

After facing quadruple bypass surgery, former president Bill Clinton made a commitment to take charge of his own health. He was further inspired to spread this goal to the hearts of America. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation in 2005. With the powerful goal of reducing childhood obesity, the Healthy Schools Program kicked off the Alliance’s initiative in 2006. Not only does this organization work toward a more nourished and physically active youth within schools, but it also provides resources for other key players in promoting positive change, including parents, doctors, healthcare and community leaders.

The Alliance urges parents to “Lead By Example”, through physical activity and making nutritious food choices. The online ebook, Weigh In: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Adult Caregivers, directs parents in having those often tricky talks about making wise and healthy choices on a daily basis. The Take Action tab on the website provides various resources for other role models in children’s health. Schools are offered an extensive list of wellness policies and ideas for smarter snacks, beverages, and cafeteria meals. The site even provides instructions and curriculum guidance for Health and Physical Education teachers, and out-of-school notions and activities for bonus points. A lengthy list of companies are highlighted for the collaborative efforts they have made with the Alliance such as keeping healthy products affordable or healthcare benefits to children.

The amazing benefits this organization is offering our nation are constant, as seen in their ongoing news and events postings. Just recently, Bill Clinton appeared on the Rachel Ray show to celebrate some major achievements in fighting childhood obesity. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation partnered with Rachel Ray’s Yum-o! in 2006, and Ray has contributed these delicious recipes for healthy school cafeterias to try.