Tag Archives: school

Vaccinating kids against sugary drink addiction

It’s sometimes hard to notice against the backdrop of large and extra-large adults, but 1 out of 3 kids these days is overweight or obese, too. Consuming drinks that have sugar, which kids really, really love, is a big part of why, especially because some parents think such drinks are healthy. So I got to wondering what public schools are actually doing to educate kids about the calorie content of beverages. Or, for kids too young to really grasp the calorie concept, how do schools inform kids that drinking too many sugary drinks can make them fat (if, indeed, teachers are allowed to suggest that being fat might be unhealthy)? Given that obesity is the most pressing medical issue facing kids, I would think that public schools would be totally focused on these topics, and would acknowledge that early intervention is better.

Below is the class activity I think all kindergartners should be doing: making a poster showing how much sugar is in common beverages. It’s a common science fair project, but if done in early elementary school the experience might vaccinate them against over-consumption of sugary drinks.

Sugar in drinksThere are lots of ways to do it, but what I like about the one above is that water and plain milk are included. There should also be some common juices (apple, orange, e.g.), of course, because they are loaded with sugar. And just for scale, it might be good to show how many teaspoons of sugar are in a typical bag of candy (e.g., Skittles).

I would further suggest that the poster include a bag of sugar to represent the total number of calories needed for a typical kindergartner (maybe 1 1/2 cups; 1200 calories?). Teachers should clarify, of course, that eating 1 1/2 cups of sugar is not the way kids should meet their daily energy needs. When done, the poster can go out in the hallway to horrify the rest of the school.

Finally, don’t give your poster a weak title like, “Rethink your drink.” Although we know what that means (and it rhymes), try instead to craft something with a more direct message, like, “Don’t drink dessert all day”, “Don’t drink your dessert”, “Sugary drinks are candy drinks”, “Liquid candy can make you fat.” The idea is to be direct, memorable. And to not shy away from the point: sugary drinks can (do!) make kids fat.

I’m making a Pinterest board to collect some good examples, so if you are a public school teacher, please have a look:

Pinterest board Educating kindergartners about sugary drinks on Pinterest.

Posted in Biology, Education, Food, Graphic design, Health, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is your school ready for measles?

I was wondering that, so I asked the school nurse what percentage of the students at our local high school were unvaccinated, and how many had non-medical exemptions. Here’s her response:

“We are unable to provide this information to you because it is in violation of the FERPA laws.”

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits the release of any information that identifies students. For example, schools cannot release the names of students who are unvaccinated due to philosophical objections of parents. But an aggregate statistic like % unvaccinated does not identify the unvaccinated students, so FERPA is not a concern. Indeed, dozens of states put their vaccination statistics in searchable databases to make it easy for parents to see. And these databases don’t just show a % — the spreadsheet usually provides the numbers of students at each school with medical, religious, and personal exemptions. And for states that don’t publish these data on behalf of schools, parents can just contact their kids’ schools and ask for the information. Unfortunately, some schools use the FERPA card as a way to hide information that might generate criticism of the school’s readiness for, say, a measles outbreak. 

Here’s the thing: parents need to know this percentage. If measles were to come to a school next week, can parents still send their children into school? What if a student has a medical exemption — is the herd immunity strong (perhaps 96% vaccinated), or is it dismal (50%)? Only when the parents know these data can they assess whether the school is safe.

By the way, the school principal is ultimately responsible for granting vaccination exemptions to the parents who request them. For example, a principal can (and should) refuse medical exemptions if the reasoning is ignorant (“I don’t want my kid to get autism”). Similarly, religious and philosophical objections can be rejected if they are baseless or contrived. For example, a parent might write, “The Pope would be displeased if my kid was vaccinated”, and the principal is allowed to reject that claim because it’s demonstrably untrue. Low vaccination rates at a school, therefore, are not just a reflection of who lives in the area — they can reveal problems in how exemptions are granted.

I suspect there are millions of parents around the country asking for the same information and getting the same answer from their schools. So I’ve posted a list of where to get school vaccination data, organized by state, at “We need transparency of school vaccinations rates“. It’s a draft, so if you have suggestions on how I can fill in the many gaps, please get in touch with me.

Image of sign at public school announcing measles outbreak

Posted in Biology, Education, Health, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Junk food vending machines in public schools

I’m amazed that we are well into 2014 and schools can still sell junk food to students in vending machines. Below are four photographs just in case you haven’t been to school recently.  In first, some breakfast cereals: Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, and Apple Jacks, with 37%, 40%, and 43% sugar, respectively.  I’m sure that the Vending Machine Committee for this school decided that if they avoided Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (55.6% sugar), they could argue that the actual offerings are “healthier options.”  Photographs 2 and 3 show candy and chips.  Photograph 4 is for viewers interested in obesity among minorities.

In Pennsylvania (where photographs were taken), 15.9% of high school students are overweight.  11.8% of adolescents are obese.  With rates that high, many students don’t even need healthier forms of calories — they need to stop snacking.  Vending machines promote snacking.

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; junk-food-vending

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; public-school-vending-machine-radnor

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; junk-food-school-vending-machine

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; public-school-vending-machines

Posted in Biology, Education, Food, Graphic design, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment