Over 20 years ago, the City of New York implemented an AIDS curriculum in all public schools as a way to control the AIDS epidemic. Teachers taught age-appropriate AIDS lessons from kindergarten through the 6th grade. After that, junior high and high school teachers continued teaching AIDS awareness and prevention lessons through their respective health classes.
While AIDS is still a widespread problem today, another epidemic that has been rapidly growing throughout the United States is obesity. This is a silent epidemic due to the pervasiveness and widespread availability of soda throughout every corner of society. I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for trying to pass legislation that sets limits on the size of soft drinks, for people addicted to soda will buy whatever size is available even if it means increasing their likelihood of diabetes and other health complications related to the overconsumption of sugar. Bloomberg’s soda legislation was ultimately shot down, and as a result, soda as a health issue will continue. I believe that like the AIDS lessons from 20 years ago, the most effective way to control the overconsumption of soda is through education. As a preschool teacher, I would like to share with you a personal success story that supports this.
Over the past 11 years, I’ve been teaching nutrition lessons to the children in my classroom. Two years ago, I began to dedicate more of my teaching time to nutrition, for I knew that the things that I teach these children now will have a positive impact on society as they get older. I began to keep things very real with my students, saying things like “McDonalds, Burger King and Wendys is bad for you. Tell your parents not to bring you there anymore”. I even brought a 2-liter bottle of soda into the classroom and had the children pour out the contents of the entire bottle into the toilet, loudly chanting,”Goodbye soda. We don’t want you anymore!”. While appearing extreme, I knew that these activities would leave a lasting impression in these kid’s heads, which will make them more conscious about the food and drink choices they will make as they get older.
About a year and a half ago, a new child named Christopher entered my class. He was an unassuming and quiet child, but little did I know that he would become my biggest cheerleader in the field of nutrition and the extent of his education would eventually go far beyond the classroom. As I did my thing teaching proper nutrition and condemning junk food and soda through my vivid demonstrations, Christopher would just sit there, listen and watch. A year later when it was time to discuss his progress with his mother, I was shocked to hear the following from her:
Christopher does not drink soda anymore; he drinks water. In fact, nobody in our house drinks soda anymore because Christopher told us that, “Josh said that soda is bad for you”. His big brother gave up soda and lost 15 pounds. I gave up soda and lost 15 pounds and his father gave up soda and lost 35 pounds. Christopher will not let us bring him to McDonalds anymore; he makes me cook a lot of vegetables for him now because, “Josh said that McDonalds is bad for you and vegetables are good for you. His grandmother who lives in Mexico has diabetes. Christopher told her that he eats healthy now so he won’t get sick.
Christopher is just one success story to show how education can affect change for a healthier society. I believe that if all public school teachers were given a mandated nutrition curriculum to follow like the AIDS curriculum of 20 years ago, soda sizes will naturally get smaller simply because our society will be educated enough to know better.