Find a “Healthy” Private School

Similar to my previous post on child nutrition, today I am composing a checklist of useful questions to ask your prospective Mississauga private schools in order to determine which school is best for the “health” of your child.

Students will spend at least 16,000 hours of their childhood—up until the age of majority—in school. Schools are therefore crucial centers of activity to promote good health and nutrition habits for their students. Regardless of the level of care children receive from home, because students spend so much time at schools, these institutions of education must recognize the significant role they play in students’ lives and act accordingly as good role models for health and nutrition. As of 2011, Canada ranks 21st out of 28 countries for child well-being and 27th out of 28 countries for childhood obesity. European kids also walk an average of 2,400 more steps per day than Canadian children.

While searching for a private school with an excellent academic reputation and top quality educators will be your primary concern, it is also important to regard Mississauga private schools that promote the well-being of their students. As is well known, a student’s academic performance is directly affected by their mental and physical health. So here are some questions I recommend parents consider during their private school search:

  1. What organized physical activities are arranged for students, both during and after school?
  2. Do students have access to a range of athletic equipment during recess or lunch break?
  3. What extracurricular programs are hosted by the private school for kids to enrol in?
  4. What is the private school’s attitude towards extracurricular and student participation?
  5. Does the private school have a cafeteria? If so, what types of food are made available to purchase?
  6. Does the school work with community partners to promote activity? For example, St. Jude’s Academy recognizes the guidelines of ParticipACTION to encourage student wellness, as well as the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

These are only a few questions you may want to ask, but I hope they will help parents considering which private school to enrol their children in! 🙂

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If You’re Reading This, Stand up!

“Sitting is the new smoking”. Each year, smoking kills around 39,100 Canadians. On average, people who smoke lose 9 years off of their life expectancy, and lung cancer from smoking accounts for 27% of all cancer deaths in Canada (and that’s without getting into the added phenomena of second- and third-hand smoke). So to say that sitting is the new smoking is a momentous remark indeed.

And yet it is true. Our normalized sedentary lifestyle of the twenty-first century is plaguing society with familiar ills. People who sit for more than just 4 hours a day are at an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease; they have a 125% increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease and a  nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause. And the scary part? These increased risks exist regardless of how much a person exercises during the rest of the week.

But the analogy between sitting and smoking was not just created by Dr. James Levine to express the similar dire health effects of prolonged sitting. It was also coined to allude to the widespread social acceptance and practice of this new health scare, similar to the social attitudes towards smoking and its normality in the early twentieth century. A sedentary lifestyle is our norm. Students sit for around 5 hours of the school day, employees sit for 8 hours of the work day, and both children and adults retire to the comforts of their home to sit for even more hours on the couch or at the dinner table. If someone is getting up constantly at the office to walk around and stretch, eyebrows will be raised. Students are expected to sit still for entire lesson plans.

The issue isn’t just the total number of hours we sit for, but also the number of uninterrupted hours. You are at an even greater risk of the aforementioned diseases if you do not get up and walk around every once and a while. Doctors and clinical researchers recommend people walk around after 20-minute intervals of sitting. This is also beneficial for eye health as well, as it relieves the strain of constant screen time. The goal is to reduce sedentary behaviour overall, as well as to punctuate long periods of sitting with small breaks of standing.

By now you may be wondering how this is relevant to my education news blog. Well, besides from wanting to generate awareness about this social and health issue, I am also proud to say that St. Jude’s Academy cherishes our students’ health. We actually let our students get up and move around in class! And we serve the interests of kinesthetic learners because we understand how difficult it is to shackle children to desks and expect them to demonstrate the same levels of concentration and attentiveness. That is one aspect of traditional learning that is proving to be a detriment to children’s health.

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Necessity of Good Nutrition at Schools

Students eat about a third of their daily food at school. In conjunction with the fact that at school students are expected to be mentally present and attentive for approximately 5 hours of lessons, it is clear how important it is that students are eating healthily while away from home. But this is easier said than done. There is no uniform, national policy in Canada regulating childhood nutrition at school. Schools are also the venue for easily accessible cafeteria food and unhealthy vending machines, the latter which has become a hotly contested issue between school administrations and concerned parents’ committees. Especially during the morning rush, it is easy for children to forget their lunch box and instead resort to acquiring their midday meals from the cafeteria, a routine that can easily become habitual.

The Journal of School Health has published time and time again the positive effects of eliminating certain victuals like soda and fast food from a child’s diet. These small dietary restrictions lead to improved academic performance among surveyed students by improving concentration in the classroom. In January 2011 researchers from the world’s first multidisciplinary Open Access journal, PLOS ONE, reported a 48% increase in the risk of depression among students who consumed the most trans fats. Food regulation has a direct and observable correlation with mood regulation, from which we can assume that students exhibiting a better mood in class are more likely to retain information better and contribute to classroom learning.

In addition to protecting their own health in the long run, students who are encouraged to eat well at school and are discouraged from buying lunch at vending machines perform better academically and on standardized tests.

Aside from adopting a national policy that is yet to be created, what do you think Canadian schools need to do to help children eat well?

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