Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Healthy Lifestyles in School: Investment in Human Capital

Healthy Living: A Student’s Key to Success

The physical and mental bodies of the human are inextricably combined.  If the physical body is neglected, the mental will lag; if the mental body is slow, so will be the physical.  Each relies upon one another and must function together in synergy for optimal output.  To perform at this optimal, mental level and simultaneously prevent mental decay, however, the body requires adequate nourishment and structured, routine exercise.

This is why it is critical that students in school—pre-school, high school, college, and further—maintain their physical and mental bodies healthy: eating balanced diets and exercising regularly.  Students who do this will excel academically, which in turn will lead them to success beyond school.  Exercise and good eating habits in school increase students’ mental ability and self-confidence.  In turn, these benefits increase their human capital, which will be critical in their abilities in finding great paying, less stressful careers, and avoid poverty and long-term health issues.  Therefore, exercise and good eating habits in school lead students to long and prosperous futures.  Conversely, students who are incapable or refuse to maintain their physical body and health risk sabotaging their futures.   

Let us look first at the benefits of exercise and healthy eating habits with respect to the human body and the brain.  Researchers have recently discovered that “exercise affects the function of thirty-three different genes in the hippocampus [region of the brain], which plays a key role in mood, memory, and learning” (Conniff, 2).   It actually produces “new brain cells, new and enhanced connections between existing cells, new blood vessel for energy supply, and increased production of enzymes for putting glucose and other nutrients to work” which consequently helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes, which currently, negatively affects an alarmingly high rate of children in the United States and their learning capabilities in the classroom (Conniff, 2).  Exercise essentially provides the brain an environment in which it can grow in its capability to absorb information and process it faster.  So, if students exercise, they will invariably think faster and better.  This means success in the classroom.  And that means success beyond it.

Maybe the most important, however, is exercise and healthy eating habits help students fight depression, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes—which all link together.  Currently, one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese, and Type 2 diabetes and depression is increasingly being reported among children and adolescents who are obese (Gavin, CDC: “Overweight and Obesity).  This is a major obstacle impeding these students’ abilities to succeed in school, because they—our obese and overweight students—experience “immediate health consequences” of which some are “psychosocial” becoming “targets of early and systematic social discrimination” (CDC: O and O).   This psychological “stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning” (CDC: O and O).  Overweight and obese students are more likely to be depressed, self-deprecating, and therefore more academically at risk because they are constantly stigmatized because of their weight and feel resentment towards their bodies becoming anti-social and consequently more inclined to miss and drop out of school (Basch).

More alarming is the recent discovery that “adolescents with Type 2 diabetes have diminished cognitive performance and brain Abnormalities” (Adolescents: NYU).  In fact, adolescents with type 2 diabetes not only “had significant reductions in performance on tests that measure overall intellectual functioning, memory, and spelling…but [they] also had clear abnormalities in the integrity of the white matter in their brains” (Adolescents: NYU).   The consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle are dire with respect to students’ abilities to perform in school and beyond.  Their brains are physically destroyed.  It's a bit  difficult to ask a student to succeed in the classroom when that student's brain is literally handicapped.

The main causes of obesity, which increases children’s’ chances of suffering from depression and Type 2 Diabetes, are bad eating habits and sedentary lifestyles.  Thankfully, exercise and a balanced diet provide an effective solution.  Exercise “helps prevent and alleviate depression,” working as well as “pharmaceutical anti-depressants” by releasing endorphins in the brain; the effects of this chemical release are also dose-dependent: “the more you exercise, the better you feel” (Conniff, 2).  And students who lead healthy lifestyles balanced with routine exercise and a mixed diet of vegetables, fruits, and lean meats significantly decrease their chances of developing diabetes.  In fact, lifting weights only three days a week “decreases blood-glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity” (Health Bulletin, 36). 

They also maintain healthy weights and socially great looking bodies.   They are slimmer, fitter, and more attractive in the general social atmosphere.  This is a superficial, yet important, solution exercise and healthy dieting provides in the fight against the systematic social discrimination that overweight and obese students may face in school that negatively affect their educational achievement—and the fight against depression and dropout rates.  Essentially, exercise and balanced dieting not only promote smarter, more confident students, but they also help prevent students from becoming overweight, depressed, and keep students in school. 

Keeping students in school is a major component of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  It raises their human capital, and “Human capital creates opportunities” (Wheelan 147).  Students who succeed throughout elementary, middle, and high school are more likely to attend college and become skilled workers—and this is critical.  “College graduates earned an average of 40 percent more than high school graduates at the beginning of the 1980s; now they earn 80 percent more” (Wheelan 142).  Skilled and educated workers with college degrees in the United States have always earned more than their high school graduate counterparts—especially compared against their un-graduated high school peers.  And this not changing anytime soon: “Our economy is evolving in ways that favor skilled workers” (Wheelan 142).  Technology has replaced low-skilled labor at an increasing rate, as we no longer need gas station attendants who repeat repetitive tasks that require little to no education at all and pay very little. 

In fact, with the global economy of the present and future, “international trade puts low-skilled [American] workers with other low-skilled workers around the globe” (Wheelan 142).  The economics is fundamental.  Enterprises prefer to hire cheaper labor in Vietnam and China that will do the same menial tasks for pennies on the dollar versus the minimum wage in the United States.  High-skilled, college educated workers are better off because they have the technical and skilled knowledge necessary to build “Boeing airplanes” while the unskilled do not.  Plus, low-skilled workers are in large supply, depressing wages; skilled works are in short supply and high demand in America’s technological and service economy, increasing wages.

With all this in mind, if a healthy lifestyle in school can help ensure students avoid poverty and live financially successful and stable lives in the future, then it must be a priority for America’s youth to maintain their health because it is an investment in their human capital--their human potential and opportunity for success.

And with final regards to documented proof of increased performance via healthy dieting, according to a study testing 4,589 fifth-graders in Nova Scotia, students who “ate an adequate amount of fruit, vegetables, protein, fiber and other components of a healthy diet were significantly less likely to fail a literacy test” (Healthy Diet: Reuters).  The study’s researchers adjusted for gender, parental education and income, and school—and the results were the same across the board: students who ate better consistently throughout the day performed better on the literacy test they administered.  The study also found that “eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and getting fewer calories from fat, was also associated with a lower risk of failing the test” (Healthy Diet: Reuters).

Nourishing and exercising the body provides students the mental fortitude and adeptness to succeed in the classroom to succeed beyond.  An unhealthy body produces an unhealthy mind and sabotages students’ futures in school.  Overall, however, the main point is this: “healthier students are better learners” (Basch).  And it is well known that better learners tend to be well off in the long-term financially in the good economic times—and the bad.  Like now. 

But there are various obstacles our youth face impeding them from investing in their health.  These barriers are mainly socio-economic ones.  Household income; neighborhood education; health culture; geographical location (food desserts and food prices); and incentives within schools  either encouraging or discouraging healthy behavior; and neighborhood levels of violence/safety.  

So then what types of policies can we employ to help encourage and allow our students to live healthier lifestyles?

This is the leading question that will I will focus on as time continues.
"Adolescents With Type 2 Diabetes Have Diminished Cognitive Performance and Brain Abnormalities." New York University Langone Medical Center: Communications and Public Affairs. NYU Langone Medical Center, 2 August 2010. Web. 26 Dec 2010.  http://communications.med.nyu.edu/news/2010/adolescents-with-type-2-diabetes-have-diminished-cognitive-performance-and-brain-abnormali>.

Basch, Charles E. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap. March 2010. Columbia University Press, Research Initiative of the Campaign for Educational Equity: Equity Matters: Research Review No.6http://www.equitycampaign.org/i/a/document/12557_EquityMattersVol6_Web03082010.pdf

Conniff, Richard. "Yes, You Were Born to Run." Mens Health Magazine 16 April 2008: 2. Web. 26 Dec 2010<http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/biology-running>.

"Diabetes Public Health Resource: Prevent Diabetes." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Diabetes Translation, 4 June 2010. Web. 26 Dec 2010. <http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/consumer/prevent.htm>.

Gavin, L., MD, Mary. "KidsHealth from Nemours." Overweight and Obesity. The Nemours Foundation, February 2009. Web. 26 Dec 2010

"Health Bulletin: The end of the iron age?" Men's Health Magazine. August 2008: 36. Print.

"Healthy Diet Means Better School Performance." Reuters. Reuters Prints, 14 April 2008. Web. 26 Dec 2010. <http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTON47353620080414>.

"Overweight and Obesity: Childhood Overweight and Obesity." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 20 October 2009. Web. 26 Dec 2010. <http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/consequences.html>.

Wheelan, Charlie. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. 2nd. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. 354. Print.