Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Importance of Education - Story 1

A re-occurring theme as of late has been the power of knowledge and the importance of education as a mechanism for change.

One of the most imprinting experiences I had in Canada this past trip came rather unexpectedly. Every time I come to Toronto, which is quite infrequent, my little cousins (now 7 -12), repeatedly request my parents to have me stay at their home, making their case well before my arrival. My schedule and their school schedule generally clash dramatically meaning that during the previous two trips, I only spent about an hour or two with them. This time, I had window of free time, which I decided to spend with them.

As I went to pick them up, I recalled a previous trip, where they had shown me their mini-fridge full of junk food. I remembered the horror I felt in learning of their excessive sugar consumption and decided to inquire more about their eating habits this time and talk to them about healthy eating.

When I arrived at their door to pick them up, I waited as the eldest handed my uncle a diagram depicting the order in which the layers of lasagna were to be placed so that we would have a correctly assembled meal for dinner. After everyone was seat-belted in the car, I asked them about what they ate. Knowing them to be picky eaters, I was super surprised at what I heard.

The three of them proceeded in turn to tell me about their fruit and vegetable rich diet and their lack of chocolate consumption over the last two years.

"Did you see our fruit bowl?", the youngest asks.

"Right now we have clementines, apples and bananas. Every day we have at least 2 fruits for dessert and another fruit for a snack," the middle one explains.

"Okay, so you eat healthy food for lunch and dinner, what about breakfast?"

"Well, we both eat Cherrios, but HE doesn't like them. He eats Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms," says the eldest matter-of-factly, referring to the middle brother.

"Fruit Loops! and Lucky Charms?!" I exclaim.

"We tell him they aren't good for him, but he doesn't listen. Actually in school, they asked us to bring in our cereal and we tested them for sugar levels and nutrients and those cereals were the worst," the youngest adds in.

That's when I realized where this all was coming from. Through school and the child care programs, my cousins were learning about healthy eating. When they were in daycare, I remember the meal plans they were sent home, but that is a standard practice. In the US in particular (I personally don't feel its as bad in Canada), general obesity and child obesity rates have been on the climb. One reason cited is the increased child consumption of junk food and processed food. I was encouraged to hear that the school system was fighting back by teaching kids about healthy eating. They not only taught children, but brought the discussion home to the parents during parent-teacher meetings and letters. I was getting a chance to see the results in person.

I joined the girls in explaining to my cousin why he shouldn't eat Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. We got him to promise that he would stop eating them and all three decided to tell their dad about buying better alternatives instead (as they don't go cereal shopping with him).

As you can imagine, I had a huge smile on my face throughout that conversation with my cousins. But the best part was yet to come. For dinner, we had lasagna full of mixed vegetables including peas and carrots. Again, the topic of fruits and vegetables came up.

"You better finish all those vegetables, don't just eat the cheese," I told them.

"Give her more peas," the brother says pointing to the youngest, who happens to wear glasses. "They're good for her eyes."

Her reply was icing on the cake.

"You're wrong. Beta carotene is good for your eyes and carrots have them, not peas. And anyways, I took extra vegetables"

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