I filmed an interesting bloggingheads segment Tuesday with the delightful Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason, in which we discussed, among other topics, the new Pediatrics study showing that a significant percentage of American girls are now undergoing puberty as early as age 7. That last topic got us onto childhood obesity, the probable cause of the trend, since fat cells trigger estrogen production. And the early puberty is a major problem, because it is correlated with an increased incidence of depression, eating disorders, earlier onset of sexual activity/teen pregnancy, and even a higher suicide rate.
Here's the part of the discussion the New York Times is excerpting, in which I muse on whether a longer school day could help shape kids' nutritional choices and health outcomes, by providing them with three meals per day. Below the video, I respond briefly to some counterarguments brought up by BHTV commenters.
When I say "longer school day," I am not at all envisioning kids sitting in rows looking at a blackboard for three or four extra hours. Rather, I'm imagining something like what the best public, private, and charter schools are already doing: a mix of additional instructional time and mealtimes with small group break-out activities like reading clubs, sports, board games, supervised computer time, library browsing time, and art and music lessons.
As a practical matter, to make this happen schools need extra labor: more hours from teachers, as well as specialized, perhaps part-time instructors in the arts and athletics. It can also be done through partnerships between schools and community organizations already providing these services. A few of the winners of the Department of Education i3 innovation grants, announced last week, fit the bill, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Studio in a School. But suffice to say, the federal money being spent on these efforts is a tiny fraction of what's needed to impact all the students who would benefit from a longer, more enriching school day.
Random thought: Next time I do BHTV, I will shine a light at my face and sit further from the camera. Also, I will try not to say "I think" so much.