Young people need more information about nutrition

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By Lauren Patterson  

I, first off, wish to commend the efforts made by P.E.I. Health and Wellness to encourage Islanders to make positive lifestyle changes and to make those changes easier and more accessible. I was encouraged to find that the areas of concern were varied and health was looked at from a variety of avenues from mental health to physical activity to addictions. I was, also, very excited that the public was asked to weigh in on the new proposals (in the Department of Health and Wellness discussion paper, “Towards A Culture of Wellness”).

As a young person, I notice a significant issue in the recent proposal on wellness.

Where is the programming for youth?

As a young person with a calling for nutrition and health, I was struck by young people’s unhealthy eating habits. 

In a previous workplace, a speaker spoke with my team and imparted the importance of knowing the difference between not caring and not knowing. “Not caring” is understanding and doing the wrong thing, regardless.

For example, I know that eating a burger and french fries, chocolate milk and chicken nuggets day in and day out will be detrimental to my health, in some way or another. If I continue to do these things, that’s not caring. However, if I eat these bad things because I cannot get access to good, healthy foods, or do not know how to make a meal with raw ingredients (probably the biggest issue facing youth today) it’s because I don’t know better.

Young people are not incompetent. Many of them understand this basic information. My argument is that many young people in P.E.I. are ignorant when it comes to how to put this information into action. They eat poorly because they either do not have access to education on how to turn these raw products into healthy meals.

What’s worse is that many parents of these youth, due to time constraints, economic instability in the family or their own incompetence in real food cooking, cannot impart these important skills to their children. That’s why I would like to suggest the following:

I believe an in-depth look at the “healthy living” programming going on in our high schools and junior highs, specifically in Home Economics is in order. As a student of both the Nova Scotian and Ontarian school systems, I had very little involvement in healthy living programming. I want to commend the efforts of the province to include some curriculum regarding food production.

However, if we are discussing healthy living and how to encourage better provincial health and wellness, I believe we can do better. One look at the information available online for Home Economics curriculum truly shows how little students really learn about how to cook real foods.

Incorporating school gardens, cooking classes, field trips to grocery stores to discuss specific food items, reading ingredient lists, etc. could truly improve students’ understanding of nutrition and overlap into their home lives. Make nutrition a requirement, not an option in junior high and high school curriculum.

If that cannot be done, utilize community led programming or subsidized after-school activities led by nutritionists or community members with experience to share these skills with interested youth. Offer this programming as a high school credit, similar to the Duke of Edinburgh. Make programming like this available to university and college students who want more than cafeteria mac and cheese.

I have heard countless stories from friends who just don’t know how to feed themselves once they move into residence or their own apartments after moving away from home. Extension programs or programming with go!PEI or potentially through the college would help. We are blessed to have the Culinary Institute – why aren’t we sharing the local food knowledge from the pros there with Islanders, even if at a small cost?

If we want to talk about why we are having a problem with nutrition, I believe it is access to information. It comes down to the following: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Teach our Island youth to cook, and you’ll feed the province – well! 

I would like to thank the province of P.E.I. and the Department of Health and Wellness and encourage them in their future work. I look forward to seeing many of the proposed programming come into effect and hope that they encourage many Islanders to become healthy in 2014 and in the years to come.

 

Lauren Patterson is a blogger about living naturally. See her articles at www.naturallylivinginthemaritimes.com

Organizations: Culinary Institute, Department of Health and Wellness

Geographic location: P.E.I.

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