Lifestyle trends impact children's education


Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 1:23 a.m.

The most pressing issues in public education today are deteriorating health, fitness and family lifestyles attributed to societal breakdown.

Facts

FYI

The Census Bureau reported that continuing an eight-year trend, television viewing has increased, while participation in almost every recreational sport has decreased. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 leisure activity reported is dining out.

Vast amounts of data substantiate a direct correlation between lifestyle and education quality. For instance, the July issue of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Archives published results from a new study that examined the effects of television on children. It found that third-graders who had televisions in their bedrooms scored about eight points lower on math and language arts tests than students without bedroom televisions.

Coinciding with this data, the Census Bureau reported that continuing an eight-year trend, television viewing has increased, while participation in almost every recreational sport has decreased. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 leisure activity reported is dining out.

Other studies have documented unhealthy effects on weight, attention span, reading skills and socialization among children who spend hours a day watching television or playing video games. Data from the tvturnoff.org Web site illustrates that the average American watches over four hours of television per day, and that by the time American children finish high school, they have spent nearly twice as many hours in front of the television set as in the classroom. How sad!

Studies have proven that attention problems in children have been found to be directly related to the amount of time they spend watching television. Dr. Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist reported that, "Many parents of children diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder found the difficulty markedly improved after they took away television viewing privileges."

Other studies have found a correlation between playing video games and increased violence in children and adults. Earlier studies indicated that tobacco exposure hurt children's intellectual development, and a recent larger study linked lower student test scores to second-hand smoke.

Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established that obesity and its related chronic health conditions are affecting a larger percentage of school-age children each year. They report that the number of overweight children has increased more than 10 percent since 1976, and that one in three adolescents is now physically unfit, putting them at increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and other illnesses.

A study led by obesity researcher Dr. Jack Yanovski found that overweight children experienced more broken bones, muscle, bone and joint (especially knee) pain and restricted movement.

How does this multitude of data relate to academia?

A recent USA Today article focusing on their All-USA High School Academic Team perfectly exemplified the connections. The article surveyed former and present students from the team with the following results.

First, 81 percent responded that parental involvement was very important to their high school success. And 74 percent indicated a great teacher or mentor was extremely important to their academic success. About 94 percent grew up in homes with both a mother and a father.

In 43 percent of the families, only one parent worked outside the home. And 100 percent of the parents had at least a high school diploma, and more than 90 percent had a bachelor's or advanced degree.

These students and their families are obviously not typical of the contemporary societal family unit.

As an educator, I see first-hand evidence of the aforementioned statistics daily. To help combat these unhealthy trends I've incorporated a self-created Healthy Living Program into my class. I integrate exercise, health and nutrition lessons into my daily curriculum.

My students also partake in National TV Turnoff Week and record the activities they participate in as an alternative to watching TV. This experience is always an eye opener and usually results in a newfound enjoyment of outdoor play and time spent engaged with the family.

In attempting to break the culturally detrimental health cycle, I involve parents and siblings in the program to encourage entire families to make better lifestyle choices.

In a society that dictates more time spent working, eating fast foods, watching television and less time spent together with families, it is important that we, as educators, use our influential powers to exemplify positive behaviors, to serve as role models and to help children benefit not only academically but physically and socially from their precious time spent under our tutelage.

But educators alone cannot reverse the downward spiral of today's society. Parents, too, must realize that their lifestyle choices are negatively affecting their children's health and education and must make a conscientious effort to employ healthier lifestyle management for the good of their children.

When the entire community works together for the childrens' sake, we all reap the benefits of my "healthy minds, healthy bodies" motto. Having healthy, well-adjusted, self-confident students in the classroom should generate improved student achievement, which creates a winning situation for all!

Ann Marie (Anni) Egan is a National Board Certified educator at Bronson Elementary School. She is a 2006-2007 Teacher of the Year.

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