The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Teens, Food and Health

TEENS. FOOD. HEALTH.

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Food, money, time, sleep, nutrients, school, sugar, friends, exercise…health and teenagers. The puzzle pieces don’t always match harmoniously. The generally hectic lives of teenagers seem to push health down the list of priorities. And even for the health-conscious, the student life-style is not widely accommodating to nourishing the body.   


 

For senior Jackson Wilke, the most important factor when eating at school is taste, followed by price, then nutrition, calories and lastly, convenience. While Wilke’s prioritization reflect his wallet and palate most predominantly, he is very mindful of the food that enters his body. 

“I usually think about the health value of the things I eat,” said Wilke. “It’s not as much about calories as the actual nutrients I am getting or not, or about how and where my food was made.”

According to Washington, D.C. Dietitian Dr. Sandra Pinney, Wilke’s is a sound viewpoint to hold. Pinney expresses that students should focus the most on the wholesomeness of the food and nutrients that will be gained, which, in turn, will affect mood and concentration.

“I feel that teenagers should have some basic nutrition education, but I do not think they should be spending a lot of time thinking about the nutritional value of the foods they eat,” said Pinney. “I would rather that kids think about balance, variety, moderation and eating less processed foods. I would like teenagers to learn to listen to their body’s cues for food and not just eat because food is so readily available.”

However, some students feel that the choices are scarce when looking for nutritious items. Vending machines are stocked this year with Fruit by the Foots, Rice Krispies Treats, and cookies along with reduced-fat Chex Mix, Sun Chips and Whole Grain Pop Tarts. School vending machines have been a much debated topic among policy officials, who argue that the machines condone unhealthy eating habits. 

“[The] movement towards granola bars and nuts [in the vending machines] was promising, but this year the machines are filled with candy and chips again,” said junior Sara Peterson. “What should the school be focusing on; the health of their students or the amount of money they can suck out of them?”

Many teenagers may wonder why the temptation of foods they know are not healthy choices are placed in front of them throughout the day. A bag of chips bought from the vending machine is offered at a greater convenience to students than a trip to Giant for the chance to peruse the aisles for more nourishing foods. 

The popular usage of the vending machines is attributed by some students to the schedule of the school day regulating their hunger. The early start to the day leaves many students cramped for time, and breakfast is often skipped to save minutes. 

“I don’t have time for much more than a granola bar or piece of fruit for breakfast,” said Wilke. “Then lunchtime seems way too early. When we have an altered schedule I often find myself randomly getting hungry during fourth period, even though it might be 9 a.m. in the morning.”

Many students do not eat breakfast at all, leaving them starving at lunch and confusing their body’s natural hunger cycle.  Eating breakfast improves attention and concentration through the whole day, improves emotional mood and helps boost metabolism to maintain a healthy weight. 

“Teenagers need a constant supply of energy and starting the day with a protein rich, high fiber diet may improve the food selections later in the day,” said Pinney. “Kids that are extremely hungry in the afternoon due to lack of calories earlier in the day may be drawn to the higher sugar, higher fat foods later in the day.”

Students use the high sugar and fat content of some foods to combat sleep. Be it a large amount of work, procrastination of work or socialization, teenagers, on average, do not get the recommended amount of rest each night. Pinney acknowledges sleep deprivation as a leading cause of the decline in health seen in teenagers. 

“This past week of classes, I was running on about four hours a night, tops,” said junior Brady  Gradowski. “The fact of the matter is school starts too early. Students understand this, parents understand this, and even teachers understand this.”

The lack of sleep results in more tired, less active students, which hinders their ability to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise each day, as suggested by Pinney. 

“The main problem that arises from teenagers eating poorly is obesity,” said Pinney. “Teenage obesity in the United States has been on the rise and, now more then ever, is a public health emergency. This current generation is the first to potentially have a shorter life span than their parents due to the complicating disease associated with being overweight.”

However, this is not to say that there are not many students who participate on sports teams in school or reach their physical activity requirements outside of school. Many students live a healthy lifestyle filled with nutritious choices and a clear care for their bodies. 

“At school I usually keep like trail mix or nuts or something relatively healthy in my locker, so when I get hungry during class or after school I have something good to go to,” said Peterson. “I bring lunch from home like 95 percent of the time.  I’m relatively satisfied with the way I eat at school.”


PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY ABBY SINGLEY
GRAPHIC BY ABBY SINGLEY

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