Our Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs face the growing rate of childhood obesity. “Overweight children are more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to grow into obese adults. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bone and joint problems, asthma, and several types of cancer,” says Chaya Stern, RPA and nutritionist.
Some might blame sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy school lunches; perhaps the Jewish community’s food-centric culture and elaborate Shabbos meals are to blame. Regardless of what has led us down this road, childhood obesity is becoming increasingly common, and our schools must step in and supplement the parents’ efforts to keep their children healthy.
Most schools give their students a 30-minute gym session once a week, but many contend that is simply not enough; Stern is one of them. “Schools need to ensure that students are participating in physical education on a daily basis,” she says. “The schools have been remiss in addressing this problem and they have the power to do a lot more than they are.”
Stern recommends banning sodas and other sugary soft drinks from school vending machines and replacing unhealthy snacks with more nutritious options. She also suggests that the schools “include at least two servings of fruits and vegetables in their meals, serve foods that are low in fat and high in essential nutrients such as fiber, calcium, and protein.”
Stern advises that the schools incorporate chummus and whole wheat pita into their menus, especially now that peanut butter is no longer an option. Tuna and salmon salads are also tasty options. “The low-fat tuna should also have a lot of vegetables cut into it such as celery, carrots and cucumbers.” It is important, too, that the school lunches include lots of vegetables, and have a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
Rabbi Hillel Mandel of the Clifton Cheder in New Jersey agrees. “We suggest and monitor the food eaten in school,” says Rabbi Mandel. “We tell the parents to send in fruits, vegetables, and non-sugary cereals for snack,” he explains. But they do allow for special occasions. “A pizza at a siyum is not the end of the world,” he notes.
Terri Mizrachi at Magen David Yeshiva, in Brooklyn, also notes the significance of this issue. “We are very concerned,” she says. “There’s always a vegetable salad at lunch, and we ask the parents to send fruits and vegetables for snack.”
“Perhaps schools should bring in professionals such as dieticians or exercise instructors to teach children about healthy lifestyle choices,” suggests Stern. Let’s hope schools seriously consider instituting some of these changes to provide our children with a healthier future.