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Patriot Perspective: Kids who eat well learn better, live longer

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The fact is this: Healthy food plus active bodies make children better equipped for success.

The equation is simple, and we must all do the math. One-third of our kids are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for a variety of health complications and chronic diseases, including heart disease, gallbladder disease, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

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Alarmingly, obesity contributes to one-fifth of all cancer deaths in the United States.

This health crisis facing our kids didn’t happen overnight and it certainly wasn’t created in schools. But the reality is, schools are our best hope for effecting change for our kids.

Yet, they can’t do it alone. The solution, though, to this national epidemic is within reach. Parents, grandparents, educators and caring people everywhere can all play a part instilling kids with the lifelong habits they’ll need for health and academic success.

From feeding children a proper breakfast each morning to encouraging them to play actively for 60 minutes every day, each one of us can improve the eating habits of the 55 million school children in the country and, in the process, improve their health so they can succeed in the classroom.

School nutrition is especially important for children from low-income families that cannot afford the generally more expensive nutritious foods and beverages. For these children, consuming healthy foods and beverages may simply not be an option. Nutritious foods and beverages may literally be out of reach for their families because of cost.

These families must rely on cheaper, less nutritious foods to fill their empty stomachs.

I was personally amazed by the number of studies linking a healthy breakfast to kids doing better in school. This is the main reason the food service department ran the “Free Breakfast for All” promotion in March and April.

The increase in breakfasts served was quite high. For the first six months of school we served an average of 5,372 breakfasts per month, or roughly 270 per day.

In March and April we served an average of 13,325 breakfasts per month, which breaks down to 715 per day.

The real test of this program will be in the feedback I get from the teachers and administrators to determine if performance and grades were better. Was there a decrease in tardiness and absences? Did the attentiveness of the students increase over the two months that free breakfast was offered?

I also look forward to seeing how many students who did not eat breakfast before will continue to do so. One of my goals was to get kids used to eating breakfast and reaping the benefits that come with it, so that they want to continue eating breakfast every day.

Unfortunately, not all kids take advantage of in-school access to healthy meals. The Pequot Lakes School District has an enrollment, as of March 1, 2014, of 1,628 students. I would love to think that all the kids who did not take part in the school breakfast program were given breakfast at home.

And, if not, then I hope they start coming to school for breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast is a great way to start your day, and its benefits last all day long!

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