I wrote the September blog, and it was just about to be posted when I read the following article in The Miami Herald’s The Readers’ Forum. I was excited and yet disheartened about its content. I was thrilled that Dr. Lori Nizel Colan brought this to the attention of our community but saddened to know that it is happening in my own backyard. But whether it is in Miami-Dade; Broward County, Florida, where I live; or any rural city or county across the United States… my September blog is so timely…American Children are Starving…Will Somebody Listen?
Thank you, Dr. Colan…I hope you and other doctors across the country will assist the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation, Inc., in getting junk foods out of our schools.
This is not breakfast
“I’m delighted that Miami-Dade County Public Schools provides free breakfast to students in the morning. It’s a great way to make sure that the kids start the day off on the right foot.
“I took my kindergartner and first-grader to the cafeteria for breakfast one morning this week. Though other kids in the room had cereal and milk or scrambled eggs, my kids each came back from the line with a ‘breakfast box.’ Inside each box was one doughnut, two cookies and a container of applesauce.
“As a parent and a pediatrician, I am appalled that my kids can get this kind of ‘meal’ in a school cafeteria. Not only is it empty calories that represent at least 20 percent of my kids’ caloric needs for the day, but it’s a breakfast made up of entirely simple sugars. The teachers can expect a sugar crash by 9:30 a.m. with restless, hungry, cranky students. Furthermore, the school cafeteria’s endorsement of this sort of a meal teaches kids that this is an appropriate meal.
“Is it any wonder that we have epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes in this country?”
Lori Nizel Colan, M.D., Miami
American Children are Starving . . . Will Somebody Listen!!
I didn’t see her enter the room, but somehow after my presentation, she was standing beside me. I knew she was young, a teenager. Exactly how old didn’t matter. Her beautiful, long blond hair was pulled back with combs. Her eyes were the color blue that everyone at some time in their life longs for. And her voice was so soft that when she first asked me… “Can I speak to you?” I didn’t hear her; it didn’t register.
Finally, her tiny body edged closer, and she gently interrupted my conversation. “Can I speak to you?” I said yes, and we sat down for what seemed like an eternity but it was really only minutes. Minutes of a conversation that would confirm that my lifelong work and desire to show the correlation between diet and behavior was not in vain.
Her name, I learned, was Maria. She was 16 years old and the mother of an 18-month-old baby. She had a job working two shifts in a pizzeria, trying to make ends meet. From the little she told me, I understood that she got some help from her dad but still had to pay a babysitter to watch her baby so she could go to work.
Maria was at an outpatient juvenile detention center picking up books for an assignment. I was here giving a presentation on “Teens, Food and Behavior.”
Maria said she only heard the last few minutes of my speech but thought perhaps I could help her. She was tired all the time. She had no energy and found it extremely difficult to work and keep up with the demands of her baby. For any young mother, an 18-month-old would be a handful. To have to raise a child at 16, under Maria’s circumstances, was an enormous task.
To compound all this, Maria is part of an alarming statistic. Not the teen pregnancy or juvenile delinquency statistics, but part of the increasing number of teenagers who are starving themselves — not by choice . . . but because of ignorance.
Since I was doing research into how teens’ diets could affect their feelings and behavior, I asked Maria what she was eating. She informed me that she had no time to eat and, most of the time, didn’t even feel like eating. She did, however, drink Coke or Pepsi all day long. Working at a pizzeria, this was easily understandable.
I didn’t want Maria to think I was treating her like a child, but I had just a few minutes to make a dramatic impression on her. So I used a comparison that she could relate to. I asked her if a car could run without gasoline, without fuel. Looking at me in confusion, she replied, “No.” I then proceeded to explain that the body is like an automobile; it needs fuel to operate. By not eating or, in Maria’s case, just barely eating, there was no way she could function properly. Her body — with its symptoms of fatigue, insomnia and poor concentration — was crying out for help.
I was not, mind you, saying that Maria did not need counseling or financial assistance. But providing those services without also explaining the consequences of poor nutrition would be like giving someone a car without describing what would happen if they didn’t put gas in it, or giving someone a bike without telling them why they needed to inflate the tires. It just won’t work!! Unless Maria is shown how and what to eat and is taught the importance of proper diet in order to function at optimum health, the physical symptoms she’s experiencing will lead to more complex emotional problems and instability — putting added strain on her and her baby, which in turn puts a strain on her family, the community and you, the taxpayer.
I will give you another example that further emphasizes this point. I had the opportunity to speak to seven home economics classes at one of the local high schools. Each class had approximately 80 students. I was asked to speak about a topic that can be frustrating and confusing, one that points to a link between diet and behavior. The subject was hypoglycemia.
The night before this engagement, there was a poignant movie on TV about teenage suicide. The following morning, just before I left for the high school, I overheard a talk show host interviewing two teenagers who had been unsuccessful in their suicide attempts. I just had to stop and listen. The host asked them what their feelings were just before attempting such a radical act, and they said they were severely depressed, lonely, unhappy and unable to think clearly.
As the students passed me on the way to their seats, I could see the curiosity in their expressions, wondering what the heck I was going to talk to them about. Before I started my talk about hypoglycemia, I told them I was doing research on the correlation between diet and behavior and asked if they would be willing to answer some questions for this very important project. While passing out paper and pencils, I instructed them not to put their names on the paper. I was hopeful that the anonymity of the questionnaire would allow them to be completely honest.
Because of the interview I had just seen on TV, I decided to add a few new questions to my list. With teenage suicide at an all-time high, I felt that insight into the following questions and answers was imperative.
- Are you often lonely and severely depressed?
- Do you find it difficult to concentrate?
- Do you have a quick temper or feel like you’re a keg of dynamite ready to explode?
- Are you fatigued all the time?
Some shared their answers openly in the classroom. However, it was not until I got home and read their responses privately that I saw an alarming number of students answered “Yes” to the above four questions. I had in front of me over 30 papers with “Yes” responses . . . and that was 30 too many!!
I went on with the questioning: What do you eat for breakfast? What do you eat for lunch? What do you eat for snacks?
I wasn’t shocked that most did not eat breakfast, but it stunned me to discover that a great number of students also didn’t eat lunch!! And like Maria, they lived on Coke, Pepsi and other sodas but also added candy bars, potato chips and Fritos to the list. If you pick up the newspaper or go online at any given time of day or night, you’ll read some staggering statistics about teenagers. Teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency and absenteeism from school as well as school dropout rates are at an all-time high. Grades, parent/teacher relationships and self-esteem are at an all-time low. Overcrowded drug and alcohol programs, which were thought to be an answer, are not achieving the desired results.
Where, then, does this leave the parent who is desperately trying to find an answer to these problems or the teenager who doesn’t believe or know that one exists? Even many teachers, counselors and lawmakers don’t comprehend that these issues may not be getting resolved because there is a missing link in the chain of solutions — the correlation between diet and behavior. To put it simply…you are what you eat!!
There are doctors, researchers and respected scientists who have conducted extensive studies of the relationship between diet and behavior. Barbara Reed, Ph.D., author of Food, Teens and Behavior, brought her findings before the U.S. Senate on Mental Health in 1980. Senator George McGovern, at that time, found her research to be a “remarkable testimony.” Dr. Alexander Schauss, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, and Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler have also demonstrated the necessity of using nutritional therapy as an adjunct to our present educational system.
We must look into the research that has already been conducted and apply the successful strategies to helping those in our community, particularly our children. There’s too much at risk, not to.
It’s time to act!
Here’s to your health,