Opinion: Healthy eating starts with formal food education

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Food is involved in every aspect of our lives; we use it to impress, we use it entertain and, most importantly, we need it to survive. But despite the importance of food, many students enter college with little to no knowledge about how to properly nourish their bodies. Why is this the case?

A quarter of U.S. adults believe it’s difficult to know how to eat healthy due to conflicting information about nutrition. In order to remedy this startling statistic, we should formally institute food education in our school systems. Students are required to take classes in all subjects, regardless of their field of interest. Food education should be a part of the core curriculum.

From my experience in the public school system, school-distributed meals are missing fresh ingredients because they are premade in food processing factories. Children receive confusing messages when we teach proper nutrition but then are provided processed school lunches.  

College is often a young person’s first experience living independently. Unfortunately, many students don’t know how to cook or have healthy relationships with food. Many students don’t know how to cook in their dorm rooms, which don’t have an oven or stove, or what groceries to buy, so they opt for a meal plan from the university. Although the dining halls offer healthy options, a large part of the student population doesn’t understand nutrition well enough to create balanced meals.

Education about food is necessary for developing healthy eating habits, but it’s still hard to start. There are endless studies pushing people to go gluten free, stop drinking caffeine or stop eating certain fats — but which ones should we believe? The overwhelming amount of news and research studies presenting contradicting health information and food fads make it impossible for young adults to sift through the information and find the resources they need for being healthy.

Ultimately, this endless cycle of not educating children on basic food information contributes to the overall health problems in America. In 2016, 30.6 percent of adults over 20 years old were considered obese, and 31.6 percent of U.S. women either somewhat unhappy or very unhappy with their body image.

Research shows that eating habits are developed at a young age. Once they are established they are incredibly hard to break. When parents didn’t get proper food education or don’t keep up with the scientific discoveries about how to eat healthy, their children often suffer. A formalized food education program implemented in elementary schools so that children could begin developing healthy eating habits at a young age could interrupt this cycle of unhealthy eating.

Our lack of food education impacts everyone. Children need to know how to properly nourish themselves so they can continue eating healthy into adulthood. Although we need an institutionalized system of food education, parents need to reinforce long-term healthy eating habits at home. Our society needs a consistent message about health and nutrition that is reinforced both in the home and in schools.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Carlisle Olsen at caol0448@colorado.edu.

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