Is being healthy not being sick, or is it feeling really great, brimming with well being and energy?
There’s a huge gap between ill-health and real wellness, and that goes for us as teachers as well as the students we teach. For most of us it’s what we do every day that makes the difference between so-so and so-good.
We all know about 6 glasses of water a day, 7 hours sleep, 5-a-day fruit and veg, daily weight-bearing exercise and daily ‘time-out’, but how many of us actually put it into practice? Most teachers’ lives are a backfooted blur of juggled commitments and just coping. Most kids know they are immortal and indestructible and see no relationship between the breakfast of fizzy and chippies on the way to school, and the fact that they can’t concentrate and see learning as the preserve of wusses and nerds.
While we live our lives seeing fitness as something we’ll tackle later when we have time, the ingredients of ill-health sneak up on us insidiously. Suddenly we find we’re coping with a lot of things that are preventable - high cholesterol, hypertension, chronic obesity, osteoporosis, type II diabetes, or worse. Scarily, we find that ‘adult onset diabetes’ is affecting obese pre-teens; that the incidence of fractures related to decreased bone density is distressingly high among overweight, poorly nourished children; that migraines and chronic headaches are reported to afflict a significant portion of pre-teens and teens.
A unit of work on bone health produced by Osteoporosis NZ for Year 10 students makes the point that the foundation for lifelong bone health starts in childhood: "Maximising bone density in adolescence when approx. 40% of the total amount of bone mineral in the skeleton is laid down is critical for preventing fractures in youth and later in life." Dr Ailsa Goulding (2001), University of Otago, has collaborated on research which indicates that, in a study of 100 3 - 19 year olds with fractures, low bone mineral content and density in overweight children were associated with increased risk of fractures.
The three B’s provide a useful checklist.
Breakfast: There’s only one answer. Build the building blocks of wellness into your daily life, starting with yourself and starting with breakfast. Children 8 - 11 years old and adults 19 - 54 need 800 mg of calcium a day, and if girls and boys 12 - 18, and post-menopausal women need 800 - 1200 mg. One glass (200ml) of calcium-enriched milk provides 400 mg - half of what you need. If you’re lactose intolerant, try a soy substitute. Fruitshakes made of calcium-enriched milk or soy milk, or cereal, yoghurt, honey and fruit, set your system up for the day. Baked beans, legumes, tinned sardines or salmon (with bones), broccoli, spinach, sesame seeds, rhubarb and nuts (especially almonds), cheese and yoghurt all contribute to the remaining 400 - 600 mgs, but we’re talking about daily intake, not just once in a while. One thing is clear - we do need to give a lot more thought to to our own daily calcium intake, and we need to give a lot more thought to explaining to children why a good breakfast helps to build bones for life. But, clearly, calcium alone is not the answer.
Balance: Balance is the answer - a balanced diet and a balanced lifestyle with enough of everything, including exercise, dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables, and not too much alcohol, stress, caffeine, chocolate or fatty foods! We’ve also heard about the pros and cons of fibre and know that we get it by eating whole-grain cereals, bread, wheat and vegetables. Antioxidants, we are told, may neutralise carcinogenic free radicals. We get anti-oxidants from vitamins C and E and selenium which are available in citrus fruits, strawberries, potatoes, vegetable oils, seafood, whole grains and some meat. Antioxidants are also supposed to help degenerating eyesight.
Boost: To supplement or not to supplement? The key question, especially for adults, is whether one should take supplements if one suspects one is not getting the recommended ‘daily dose’ of calcium and vitamins. The medical view seems to be that a good balanced diet and lifestyle should cover what you need. The health food section of any bookshop bulges with alternative viewpoints. We have depleted our soils and our degraded foods no longer provide the vitamins and minerals we need. Ringing around, I’ve discovered that many teachers swear by kyolic garlic. Many women take evening primrose oil capsules. Others take calcium supplements (best to take a calcium supplement that contains Vitamin D or magnesium to help with absorption), and echinacea seems to be the most popular winter remedy - both prevention and cure. Spirulina is a minority choice, as is activities like meditation, yoga or tai chi.
B vitamins and stress formulae are favourites when ERO visits! The body depletes itself of B Vitamins when under pessure and stressed and these important vitamins need to be replenished!
Many teachers claimed that they rushed around so much at school that they didn’t need regular exercise, but several said that many of the teachers on their staff were overweight even, if they weren’t personally.
Many teachers confessed to quick or non-existent breakfasts, although all said that they discussed nutrition with students. Several confessed to getting so exhausted at school that they had a caffeine and sugar fix when they came home, but all claimed to eat enough calcium, fruit and vegetables. However, when I asked them about ‘today’ some said that the reality had slipped a bit from the ideal.
While I was teaching I let my health go to hell in a handbasket. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I took good health and energy for granted. Now I understand that good health, well-being and energy are not a birthright. I wish I’d understood the concept of investing in health every day of my life. I worry that the message isn’t getting though to kids and I wish I’d set a better example as a teacher.
In an article published in 1999 in Health Promotion International 14(4), Mary-Ann Carter and Boyd Swinburn reported on the impact of the Heart Foundation’s School Food Programme which was introduced in 1989. The results "indicate that the School Food Programme is successful in achieving its aim of influencing the school environment by improving healthy food choices, and that improvements have continued over 7 years in the programme." Nevertheless...
The National Nutrition Survey (New Zealand) (2000) reported disturbing statistics about adult obesity, and also suggested that many 13 - 15’s lacked adequate fibre and calcium in their diets.
In a University of Auckland study by researchers from the Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine and Health, published in 2001, 2273 Auckland school children aged 5 - 10 were tested for obesity. "In all 14.3% were obese..." leading them to conclude that "Obesity rates are high in Auckland school children..."
Research by Dr Ailsa Goulding and colleagues from the University of Otago, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, October 2001, suggested that "overweight children may have an increased risk for breaking their forearms in comparison with children of healthy body weight. Overweight children have lower bone area and mass for their weight than lighter children."
Dr Elaine Rush, who, like Winsome Parnell and Elaine Ferguson from the University of Otago, has contributed significantly to obesity research in New Zealand, completed a pilot study in 2001. This study measured nutrition and energy rates. The findings confirm the need for more detailed information.
This more detailed information will be gathered through the National Children’s Nutrition Survey which was launched in March 2002 and will be completed in 2004. AUT, Massey Auckland and Otago Universities are contributing and will work alongside other agencies. For example Crop and Food Research which maintains the New Zealand Food Composition database will analyse the food consumed in a University of Otago diet recall project detailing the food and beverages consumed by 3,200 5 - 14 year old children over 24 hours.
Christchurch School of Medicine research reported in NZ Herald Wed. May 1showed that, in a study tracking 1265 Christchurch children born mid-1977, nearly 70% had tried cannabis at least once and "nearly a quarter of those under 21 had reported using cannabis more than 100 times." The article quoted Professor D. Ferguson that heavy and regular use (at least once a week) increased the risk of mental health problems.