Something worth dancing about

Published 8:02 pm Monday, January 23, 2012

Food was viewed a little differently when I was younger. Eating was all about cleaning your plate, even if you were stuffed. Sugary cereals were considered healthy, due to the presence of flour and fortifying vitamins. When students in my class read a certain number of pages, we all received free pizza. And with all that dairy and veggies, how wasn’t pizza healthy?

Times have changed. During a visit to a doctor — the first in years — I received a handout encouraging me to eat less fat and sugar and more vegetables.

I’ve changed, too. I’ve learned what’s healthy and not, and I don’t eat so much that I’m bursting at the seams. In short, I’ve learned to be healthy, despite a childhood spent eating too much fairly unhealthy food.

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But some things have stayed the same. Pizza is still a nutritional standby. And children are still consuming foods billed as ‘healthy,’ but that are actually chock full of bad things.

No wonder our kids are battling an obesity epidemic.

So it’s great to hear of a local elementary school attempting to include lessons about healthy living in its school day.

After receiving a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, an Oakland Elementary physical education teacher, Anne McCoy, organized the Healthy Youth Day. The event, held all day Thursday, encouraged exercise through flash dances and competition, eating healthy snacks and promoting healthy lungs.

“I want to show that Oakland Elementary can provide healthy habits and movement along with normal academic curriculum,” McCoy told a Suffolk News-Herald reporter. “You have to take care of the whole person.”

It’s an initiative worth looking into, for every school in Suffolk. Especially after last year’s announcement that downtown Suffolk is home to two food deserts, or areas that are low-income and have low access to a large grocery store.

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service contends there is an association between being in a food desert and having obesity-related health issues.

It’s not hard to imagine that without easy access to grocery stores and without enough money to spend on fresh, healthy food, many families are making do with high-fat and high-sugar convenience foods they can actually afford. And without access to the healthy foods, children just don’t know to eat healthier as they grow up.

But initiatives like the Healthy Youth Day at Oakland can help fill the gap and create a healthier populace. And that’s something to dance about.