In response to a steep rise in obesity among children, some public schools are taking action. It shocked me to learn that only 6 percent of elementary schools in Chicago have any recess for kids to run on playgrounds for 20 minutes. One school, Nettelhorst, made the decision to bring back recess.

Startling results have occured in schools that have replaced junk food with whole food. Higher grades, calmer kids, healthier bodies. The US Congress is getting in on the act this year with new legislation for schools that would require new minimum nutrition standards for lunches.

West Virginia kids consistently top the obesity chart, so the schools have installed the video game, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), in 157 middle schools to encourage physical activity in kids who don’t play sports. The game has already been tested in a pilot project in 20 schools, and will be installed in 753 schools within three years. Here’s a photo of kids stepping to the beat on the electronic mat.

Dietary experts say today’s nutritional standards in schools make no sense. “Jelly beans and lollipops are not allowed, but donuts, french fries, and soda are,” reports an article in the CS Monitor that details the new legislation. Teaching kids why salad is good for their bodies is also key to instituting change…

Nettelhorst was part of a pilot project that put salad bars in three Chicago elementary schools. A study of the project showed that without any nutrition education, few kids chose the salads; with education, the number doubled. On some days, nearly a third of Nettelhorst students choose salad. No junk food is available.

The Good News Network reported in 2002 on an alternative school for troubled youth in Appleton, Wisconsin that instituted a whole foods diet removing all food dyes and preservatives from the teen’s meals, and saw respect, achievement, and discipline prevail where once kids packed weapons, took drugs, and exhibited “terrible rudeness.”

Before 1997 the teens ingested a slurry of behavior-altering chemicals that left them irritable, fidgety, and unable to concentrate. The culprit chemicals were not cocaine, speed, or marijuana, but the industrial food additives found on grocers’ shelves… The Appleton revolution is part of a growing body of evidence that points to extensive chemical processing of children’s foods as a leading culprit in the 20 year surge of cases of hyperactivity (A.D.D./A.D.H.D.), depression and obesity in America’s children.

Scientific Studies Build the Case For Nutrition Reform

The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report in 1999 concluding that in 17 of 23 studies evidence strongly indicates that for some children behavioral disorders are caused or aggravated by certain food additives and artificial food colors. The Center joined a group of physicians and scientists urging the Department of Health and Human Services to advise parents and doctors to try changing the diets of children with ADHD before placing them on stimulant drugs like Ritalin, with their side effects. A NIH report suggested that the government “consider banning synthetic dyes in foods consumed widely by children.” (“Diet, A.D.H.D. and Behavior,”

The New York City Board of Education, in 1979, instituted dietary changes in 803 schools that raised test scores a whopping 15 percentile points by gradually removing synthetic colors and flavors and some preservatives, and by reducing sugar in the foods served at breakfast and lunch. Before the change, test scores ranked in the 39th percentile. Four years later the students scored in the 55th percentile. (International Journal of Biosocial Research, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1986.)

A double-blind University of Oxford study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2002) reported that over a nine month period half of a group of 231 adult male prisoners were given vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids. They committed 26.3% fewer offenses than in previous months and 40% fewer violent offenses. The men who received the placebo pills continued to behave as they had all along. The Researchers hailed the improvements as ‘huge’.

The Feingold Association newsletter, Pure Facts, described 10 year-old Bradlea Fletcher’s school science fair project on the effect of food dyes. She took 8 mice and ran them through a maze for 6 days. Then she divided them in half and added 2 drops of yellow food dye to one cage’s water dish, then timed them for 6 days more. The mice with the dyes were 50% slower than in earlier runs, while the normal mice improved their time by 25%. Additionally, the tainted mice became harder to catch and aggressive — one even bit her, while the normal mice became tamer.

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