The idea — to replace cupcakes with oranges in math problems — is not a bad one. It’s not a demonstrably good one either, since the correlation between food references in arithmetic problems and dietary behavior has never been empirically established.
Whether the idea is good, bad, or indifferent, it is certainly far from novel. The decision by educational publishers to replace junk foods with “healthful” alternatives dates back at least four decades.
That hasn’t stopped First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative from applauding textbook publishers and professional organizations such as the Association of Educational Publishers for making this decision, which they are treating as groundbreaking.
A blog post dated May 22 and titled “Carrots 2 Cookies” at LetsMove.gov advises:
Today at the White House, we celebrated a group of educational publishers on their development of voluntary guidance to incorporate health information into textbooks and other learning materials….
Just as these publishing companies came together thirty years ago to incorporate greater diversity into textbooks, they are now using their platform to have a positive impact on children’s health. We congratulate them on their exciting leadership.
The post includes a sample two-page spread from an unidentified book to show how this important innovation can be actualized. The spread, which fails to carry the standard copyright line in the margins, appears to have been cobbled together by the blog’s designers. If so, they could have saved themselves tons of trouble. They could have used this ready-made spread from a second-grade edition of “Addison-Wesley Mathematics.” The book does carry a copyright date: 1972. There are countless other spreads like it.
Ditto for publishing guidelines that address the same health concerns. Here is passage from a set of standards approved by the California State Board of Education on January 10, 1986:
Purpose. The standards accustom students to seeing and dealing with representations of nutritious foods and foster a positive attitude toward exercise; diet and exercise are essential to children’s health and well-being.
Method. The standards will be achieved by emphasizing foods of high nutritional value and regular exercise when it is appropriate to do so.
Applicability of Standards. The standards require compliance when appropriate. Depictions of foods of low nutritional value and of sedentary people are not absolutely prohibited; materials are to emphasize the importance of proper diet and regular exercise.
The relationship of diet and exercise to the overall health and well-being of children is well documented. A variety of opportunities to learn about good nutrition and exercise should be available so that children can attain optimal physical and mental development. Instructional materials should provide appropriate reinforcement in illustration and content. Illustrations should emphasize the selection of a variety of nutritious foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar and high in fiber content. Foods that contribute little other than calories should be minimized.
- Variety of opportunities. A variety of opportunities should be available for students to learn about good nutrition and exercise so that they attain optimal physical and mental development.
- Reinforcement through illustrations and content. Instructional materials should appropriately reinforce through illustrations and content the benefits of consuming nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Illustrations of foods should emphasize the selection of a variety of nutritious foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar and high in fiber. Depictions of foods that are of low nutritional value should be minimized.
This is not the first time the First Lady has given herself a pat on the back for work that predates her anti-obesity campaign. Toward the end of April, she traveled to Mississippi to congratulate the state — and herself — on its more than 13 percent drop in child obesity:
What’s happening here in Mississippi is really what ‘Let’s Move’ is all about.
It’s the story of what you all have achieved here that we want to tell. It’s the story we want to be telling in every state all across this country.
The only problem is that the reduction in childhood obesity had its roots in an initiative taken in 2006 by the Mississippi State Board of Education, which set nutritional standards for foods and beverages sold in school vending machines.
If Mrs. Obama wants to encourage children to shed unwanted pounds, that is fine, though she should lead by example. She should also spend a little less time lecturing and a little more boning up on the science of weight loss and the history of the war on weight.
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- Is more government intervention the answer to the problem of childhood obesity?
- White House Task Force on Obesity Report is filled with lies and distortions
- LA school district lunch program spawns thriving junk food black market
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