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For Expert Comment: MU Researcher Says Schools Should Educate Students About Origin of Food to Combat Child Obesity

July 28, 2011

Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau, munewsbureau@missouri.edu, 573-882-6211

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A new University of Missouri study says one of the best ways to combat childhood obesity is to design courses that educate children about consumerism and the origins of their food. Courses focused on sustainable local food production and media literacy can help children make informed decisions about their food choices while teaching environmental science, natural resource management, food production, nutrition and advertising.

Crystal Kroner

Crystal Kroner, a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis in the College of Education, said educational policies focused on sustainable food production and media literacy can help combat childhood obesity.

“It seems counter-intuitive, but the obesity epidemic is really about children being malnourished due to the overabundance of low-quality, mass-marketed foods,” said Crystal Kroner, who completed the research as part of her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the College of Education. “As schools look for intervention strategies, it’s important that children are taught the context of food so they can form different perspectives on accountability and consumption. Children are never too young to become knowledgeable about proper food choices.”

As she examined numerous studies related to childhood obesity, Kroner said that poverty has been linked with low educational levels and obesity for many years. She found that children are often only viewed as consumers of a product, and people with limited financial resources are driven to unhealthy alternatives.  Kroner said today’s educational interventions must do more than teach about the food pyramid. Educators must show children how to navigate through mixed messages from advertisers so they can begin making informed and healthful choices.

“It’s not that people are walking into the grocery store and saying ‘give me the low-quality food’ – they are looking for the best bang for the buck,” Kroner said. “Healthy, fresh food is much more expensive than several boxes of low-quality, high-caloric products that will feed your family for much longer. We need to start showing children much, much earlier that the cartoon character on the box is only trying to sell them food, and that the food might not be good for them.”

Kroner said that young children learn best from the examples they are given. She recommends that schools look at initiatives that offer children locally grown food, or food they can even pick themselves, so that children can have a much healthier experience. She cites examples of New York public schools growing food in greenhouses and elementary school lesson plans that highlight how advertisers may entice people to make unhealthy choices when buying food.

“Today’s educational policies, from the federal government down to the child’s plate, need to be tailored to provide children with critical skills and insights into the political contexts of their choices,” Kroner said. “I believe there is a policy chain that can be very specific so that the choices become healthier.”

Kroner’s study, “The Body Politic: childhood obesity as a symbol of an unbalanced economy,” is featured in the journal Policy Futures in Education.

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