Nearly one in five schoolchildren in U.S. public schools face hunger, and a majority of the teachers who see the effects of hunger evident on their students' faces believe the problem is growing.
In fact, a recent report of 1,000 K-8 public schoolteachers found that three out of every five teachers report having children in their classrooms who regularly come to school hungry, and four out of five of those teachers say these students come to school hungry at least once a week.
Dr. David Satcher, 16th surgeon general of the United States, will challenge Michigan school administrators, K-12 staff members, parents and community leaders to create achievable action plans for improving academic performance in schools through quality nutrition and increased physical activity as part of the Michigan Learning Connection Summit at Ford Field on May 6.
The one-day forum will share details of current scientific findings linking regular physical activity, good nutrition and eating breakfast to healthier children who perform better academically with the end goal of charging school administrators, parents and community and business leaders with the task of developing healthier learning environments.
The summit, modeled after the GENYOUth Nutrition + Physical Activity Summit held in Washington, DC, in 2012, is presented by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan and the Michigan Departments of Education, Community Health and Agriculture and Rural Development, in partnership with the Detroit Lions, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Center for Civil Justice, the GENYOUth Foundation, Michigan Action for Healthy Kids, Michigan Team Nutrition, No Kid Hungry Michigan, United Way of Southeast Michigan and Pure Michigan Fit.
Creating a culture of wellness in schools starts with serving a healthy breakfast. Breakfast can help improve the overall quality of children's diets, and research shows that children who eat school breakfast miss fewer days of school, perform better on standardized math tests and are more likely to graduate from high school.
"Childhood hunger is a serious issue affecting thousands of Michigan students," said Sharon Toth, UDIM chief executive officer. "Children spend more than 2,000 hours every year in school, so school is the logical place to promote healthy eating and regular exercise. Eating a healthy school breakfast including low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, fruits, whole grains and lean protein is the first step towards ending childhood hunger, improving chances for leading healthier lives, achieving higher academic performance and avoiding food insecurity as adults."
Tom Lewand, President of the Detroit Lions, will start off the summit by welcoming attendees to the Michigan Learning Connection Summit, and former Detroit Lions wide receiver and four-time Pro Bowl player Herman Moore and placekicker Jason Hanson will take part in a physical activity demonstration on the playing field during "recess before lunch." The National Football League is committed to improving child health and wellness, and it is one-half of the unprecedented public-private partnership of the GENYOUth Foundation with the National Dairy Council.
In addition to former Surgeon General of the United States Satcher, there will be several other leading experts in childhood learning and development. Dr. Naiman A. Khan, postdoctoral research associate in the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois in Urbana, will speak on the "Effects of Exercise, Obesity and Nutrition on Cognition in Children," and pediatrician Elizabeth Zmuda, from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, will talk about "The Learning Connection and the Brain." Duke Storen, senior director of research, advocacy and partner development with Share Our Strength in Washington, DC, will speak on "Food Insecurity and Learning."
The Michigan Department of Community Health will present its School Wellness Awards, which aim to engage schools statewide to create healthy school environments by establishing Coordinated School Health Teams, completing the Healthy School Action Tools and implementing sustainable policy and environmental changes, and serve as one of the strategies of the Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Plan.
Following the awards ceremony, attendees will hear examples of how schools have successfully overcome challenges to implementing alternative breakfast service, and making sure movement is part of the school day will round out the event. The panel discussion will feature: Cedric Hodo, food service director, Saginaw Public Schools; Aprylle Magar, art teacher, Plymouth Canton Schools; Jeff Stevenson, physical education instructor, Waterford School District; and Karen Sherwood, superintendent, Boyne Falls Schools. The breakfast program at Oxford (MI) Schools will also be featured via a video presentation.
The day will conclude with a group activity led by Ann Marie Krautheim, with the National Dairy Council and GENYOUth Foundation, "Moving the Agenda Forward: What's Your '30-90'?" All representatives from a school or community will work together on teams to document progress plans for 30 days out and 90 days out, respectively.
"Creating an environment that enhances a student's ability to learn is an achievable goal, and it starts by providing students with regular access to good nutrition and physical activity," Toth said. "School breakfast programs are an easy-to-implement first step to improving student wellness and helping to ensure our children can learn, grow and reach their full potential."