It is commonly understood that a child’s dietary habits are shaped significantly by parents’ guidelines and even income. A new study supports this position, but also indicates that a financially poor school environment may also have a marked impact on these habits.
The sociological study, published in the most recent issue of Social Science and Medicine, debunks the previously held belief that family income is a key factor in shaping the eating habits of children. Instead, it offers evidence that at the family level it is the parents’ education that is more strongly linked to adolescent weight, but that education becomes minimally relevant if the child attends a financially strapped school.
Generally speaking, the issue is one of social stratification that puts children who live in underfunded school districts at a disadvantage with regard to nutritional knowledge and opportunities for exercise. This is not the only time in which a study has revealed that socioeconomic inequalities have been tied to adolescent health problems, whether it is obesity or something else; however, it is the first study to suggest the influence of a poor school may outweigh the relevance of what kids are learning at home about healthy eating.
Many factors contribute to how a poor school can impact the health of its students. One issue that may develop is a lack of emphasis on nutritional and physical education due to limitations that put educators in the position of having to focus on core knowledge. A white paper produced by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendants in February 2011 revealed that 92% of elementary schools do not have regular physical education classes, and that only about one-third of high school students elect to take physical education classes.
Another problem may arise if the school can’t afford to fund a robust athletic program or a larger variety of healthier cafeteria food choices. When considering these things, it’s easier to see how even children who experience good nutritional examples and education at home can slip into poor eating and exercise habits if the fundamental lessons learned there are not reinforced at school.