Glenn Tucker, Guest Columnist
I refer to your front-page article in The Gleaner dated December 16, 2013, titled 'Hunger pains'. It said 30 per cent of all children attending the island's public schools go to class hungry.
I have no doubt that the economy is one of the main contributors, but there are other causes. If one enters shops that open early in the mornings, they are swamped with schoolchildren making purchases. I observe these purchases keenly.
They are purchasing items loaded with refined sugars and salt. These items are bad for them. The money being spent could provide a balanced breakfast. So for many of these children, the problem is not the economy - it's just lazy, irresponsible parents who find it easier to just hand them some money and go back to sleep.
And how are these purchases affecting the children? The simple sugars found in sodas, candies and other packaged treats, consumed daily for breakfast, is harmful in many ways. Unlike complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, grains and fruits, excess sugar depresses immunity. Studies have shown that consuming the amount of sugar solution equivalent to what is in two sodas can suppress the body's immune responses.
These sugars - unlike complex carbohydrates - cause a 50 per cent drop in the ability of white blood cells to engulf and kill bacteria. The behaviour, attention span and learning ability deteriorate in proportion to the amount of 'junk' sugar they consume. For the more sugar-sensitive children consuming these products, their adrenaline levels increase and remain 10 times higher than normal for up to five hours after consumption.
AFFECTS HEALTH, LEARNING
This type of sugar promotes obesity and heart disease. In one study, researchers fed normal preschoolers a high-sugar drink and compared them with children who who received a non-sugar drink. The sugar group experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group.
Adding salt to food comes naturally to us all, but reports are now revealing the damage it is doing. Yes, we all need salt. It helps to carry electrical impulses to the muscles and nerves and also regulates blood pressure. While the body can regulate levels under normal circumstances, if the intake is too high, there will be problems.
What children eat now can have a great effect on their health in later life. A high salt intake may mean hypertension, osteoporosis, kidney stones, heart disease and strokes. Osteoporosis, hypertension and kidney stones have been detected in children, so salt intake is a problem for their present, as well as their future health.
It's going to be difficult to get the intake of salt down if manufacturers are allowed to produce foods with such high levels of salt. We see guidelines on labels for daily amounts, but these are for adults. One mistake frequently made by adults is that they think sodium is the same as salt. If a label says 1 gram of sodium per 100 grams, that is really 2.5 grams of salt per 100 grams.
What all this means is that a diet loaded with salt, fat and sugar is heaven to a child. But it carries with it tremendous negative implications for the child in school and later on in adult life.
It cannot be said too often that parents
The application of sanctions for poor parenting is long overdue. But this is not likely to happen because it's not the kind of thing that gets votes. This is why teachers need to apply pressure on the Government to get parents to perform.
We blame the police for crime, which is not a police problem. We blame teachers for poor performance of students who are dispatched to school woefully unprepared for learning.
Parenting is a hard, thankless, vacationless job. There is no other job that takes so much out of an individual. But if one decides to have children, one has to do it, and those who neglect their responsibilities should pay a price.
Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.