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rockfan's avatar

Do you think every high schooler should be required to take a separate course on nutrition?

Asked by rockfan (2989 points ) 1 month ago

I had a Father’s Day dinner with my family, and my younger cousin, who is 16, said he was trying to lose weight, and eating an extremely low carb diet. So instead of eating brown rice and beans, he ate a 20 ounce rib-eye steak instead. It made me kind of queasy to say the least. And I was really surpised to see that he was unaware of what a regular portion of red meat looks like. Your thoughts?

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56 Answers

canidmajor's avatar

But who is to choose the program? The concept of “nutrition” is as mutable as the concept of “truth”. You can find scientific studies that tout the benefits of a paleo diet, a vegan diet, a low-carb diet, etc etc etc. I spent 50 years hearing how bad butter was for humans, now it’s not.
Until you can find something beyond the most basic “vegetables good/Twinkies bad” doctrine for people to agree on, a nutrition class will make virtually no impression on a teenager.

Seek's avatar

The kid went out for a holiday dinner with his family, and you expect him to eat rice and beans?

Harsh, bro. Harsh.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think that’s a great idea. Or at least it could be a required part-of-the-term course, where the other parts are optional and their choice (we had such a system in high school, though nutrition wasn’t one of the options).

Re “who is to chose the program,” I don’t think this matters. As long as it’s science-based, and discusses digestion and how food is processed in the body, you can’t go too far wrong. The fad diets have no basis in science, so no worries there. And it would be a great place to discuss what kinds of complementary proteins one must eat if one chooses to be vegetarian or vegan, which kids should know if they are considering this.

In other words, it would be a background that they could use to assess the various pros and cons of specific diets if they are considering following them.

rockfan's avatar

@Seek Eating steak is fine, but a TWENTY ounce steak?

Seek's avatar

He’s a growing lad.

rockfan's avatar

It was actually closer to a 25 ounce steak.

ibstubro's avatar

I think it would be a good part of the curriculum for a “Life Skills” class, and I would probably not wait until HS. Probably the last year of middle school. I’d also include things like banking, insurance and health care.

Wow, if he finished a 25 oz. steak he should have at least won a T-shirt! XXXL

Blackberry's avatar

Finance and nutrition, yes. Not separate, though.

talljasperman's avatar

Yes… From my experience we had nutrition in grade 5.

JLeslie's avatar

I took nutrition in college and it was awesome. I think in jr high or high school nutrition should be included in either Home Ec class, or a basic things to survive as an adult class. The nutrition section could just be a week or two long to get some basics. It also could be in a science class.

josie's avatar

Who is the objective expert on nutrition.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I could easily down a 20 oz steak and my health is just fine. I don’t think you can judge his normal eating habits from one meal on the day of a special occasion. You should see what I eat when I go to Outback, but it’s no reflection on my normal daily eating habits.

I know that cutting carbs for weight loss is completely unnecessary for weight loss, but he’s not the first person to fall into the low-carb farce. A nutrition class sounds good in theory but, as the others have said, who’s the authority on “proper” nutrition?

Seek's avatar

Now I want a steak.

zenvelo's avatar

My kids had nutrition in 6th and 7th grade as part of Home Ec. They had to learn about a balanced meal, make menus, and learned about fresh real foods on the outside aisles of a supermarket, and what the deal was with processed foods on all the center aisles.

Didn’t change their preferences much though.

Judi's avatar

I wish DOCTORS were required to take nutrition classes!

ragingloli's avatar

Pearls before swine.
They will not give a shit. They will continue to devour their burgers and tacos.

Judi's avatar

I think a nutritionist would be the authority on proper nutrition.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think it matters if the kids change their eating habits when they are very young. What matters is having some knowledge when they finally decide to do something about what they eat. It might not happen until they are in their 20’s and 30’s. Maybe after they gain some weight, or when they take their health more seriously. Hopefully, it will help them avoid really fad, extreme, stupid diets. Too many people are learning and taking diet “advice” from people without any real education in nutrition. They listen to trainers in gyms, which all too often are overfocused on building muscle, their friends, and people who want to sell books or products.

Unbroken's avatar

The nutritionists I’m aware of know the paleo Atkins gluten HTC diets are crap. As well as the food pyramid of old.

Speaking of which we learned about the food pyramid in grade school.

Nutrition is in some flux as we learn just like any science. But that doesn’t mean we stop teaching science. The knowledge should be available for kids to learn. Though most will follow the example of their parents and by the time they reach middle school a lot of unhealthy habits are likely to be developed.

The nutritionists I know today have a plate visual broken into thirds. They now say to go back to three meals a day, since people who were doing six never reduced portions. They advise its unwise to cut out any food group and talk about eating as less processed foods as possible. As well as covering what size 3 oz is. They know the dangers of drinking your calories. Etc. Common sense in other words. This is of course assuming no dietary restrictions due to health.

All this can be taught in a day.

jca's avatar

First, there is so much conflicting information about nutrition and weight loss. Low fat, low carb, high protein, paleo, raw, eat less, avoid low sugar, avoid artificial sweeteners, etc. Who decides what information to teach, and since we learn new things every day about what is supposedly best, what teacher wants to be responsible for putting out information that may be proven to be false or inaccurate?

Second of all, like @Seek pointed out, he’s a growing boy and this was a fun occasion and at a restaurant. First your description was a 20 oz steak, then it changed to a 25 oz steak. Whatever it was, I hope you or others did not lecture him in front of everyone. Nothing more humiliating than getting a lecture from others (“the elders” in the family who feel they are obligated or authorized to lecture a kid on his weight). I have been there and I know. I have gotten that lecture as a kid and it does not help the situation, believe me.

JLeslie's avatar

I think the point about the large steak was the kid had mentioned wanting to lose weight. I agree one meal does not necessarily indicate he is eating 20oz steaks every day, but those low carb diets I think can be a menace. People loading up on bacon, cheese, and steak. Heart attack on a plate. Some people are lucky and can eat whatever they want and their body does all the right things to take care of it. But, if he is on a diet let’s assume he is not very thin. We have no idea what his cholesterol is like obviously, he could be one of the lucky ones.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Absolutely! It should be taught! . With the rising rate of obesity it is pretty obvious kids are not learning it at home.
Sure, science changes slightly as new advances and discoveries are made. Thank goodness it does change!. That is called progress.

What can a basic class on nutrition include? Here’s are my suggestions:
The first day state that everyone is slightly different and there are a few people, 1–3%, with medical conditions that must abide by different rules. However for the vast majority of the population these rules apply.

What are calories? How do you read a nutrition label? What is a serving size?
How many calories are in a gram of fat, a gram of sugar a gram of protein. a gram of vegetable, etc.?

How many calories does the average person burn when siting, when walking, when running? Go to the latest Gov’t site and enter your own numbers to get personalized answers for you. How many calories per day do you burn on the weekend? How many during the school day? How many calories per day does the site suggest you need?

How many calories are stored in a pound of fat? Research from many sources.

Discuss the equation: Weight change = calories in – calories burned. What does that mean? How many calories per day do Ultra-marathon runners eat? Why are they still thin? How many calories did they burn while running?
If you eat an extra 100 calories per day for a year how many extra calories will your body have to store? If it is stored all in fat how many pounds is that gain per year?
How many grams of sugar are in a sugary drink? How many grams of sugar are in your favorite drink? How many calories is that? If you drink one every day how many pounds of fat is that at the end of a year?

What is the BMI? How do you calculate it? What web sites can you use? Look at photos and guess the person’s BMI? Can you make some generalities? Can you find a few exceptions to the rule?
What is the definition of obese and clinically obese? What are some of the medical problems associated with obesity? How have obesity rates changed since 1960 ? Make a graph.

What are some lifestyle difficulties associated with obesity? If you were carrying an extra 30 pounds on your waist could you be as active as you are now?
Are obese people destined to remain that way forever? Can small changes in eating habits and exercise make a big change in a person’s health?.
Have any of you seen “the biggest loser”? Are those life style changes healthy or unhealthy? Is drastic dieting healthy? What damage can be seen? Does extreme dieting work? What % of extreme dieters keep the weight off? Research many sources.
What are fad diets? How many can you find? List them.
Is it better to keep a constant weight?
If a person is overweight how can they reduce gradually? What does “eat less and exercise more” mean to you?

For 5 extra credit points you may voluntarily track your weight and BMI on a weekly chart. Awards for xyz…

I would also include the importance of vitamins, minerals, their effects and their sources, food, sunlight, etc. (I am too lazy to write that lesson plan now.)

Of course this would have to be done in a politically correct way since odds are 7 kids in the class are clinically obese and we wouldn’t want them to have lowered self-esteem issues.

The information from a class like this would give student the tools they need to make healthy lifestyle choices resulting in happier lives for them and lower medical costs for society.

Don’t hold your breath.

cazzie's avatar

For the over weight girls in my high school back in Wisconsin(This was only for the girls. None of the big boys were treated like this. The big boys played football and their overweight bodies were never questioned.) they were subjected to embarrassing lectures in gym class and had to endure weigh ins and classes on dieting and exercise. This double standard pissed me off to no end, so when I heard Coach berating them on one end of the gym I went over and told him what I thought. He was such an ass, with his big gut hanging over his shorts and his lisp.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@LuckyGuy “How many calories are in a gram of fat, a gram of sugar a gram of protein. a gram of vegetable, etc.?”

You mean a gram of carbohydrate? Calories in vegetables vary because their macronutrient (protein, fat, carbs) contents vary. And sugar is a carb.

While you’re at it, you may want to teach what a gram is, because I doubt many people, let alone high schoolers, could tell you what a gram of fat looks like.

Seek's avatar

^ Don’t get me started.

I spend so much time on Google looking for conversions for grams to cups it’s ridiculous. A gram of butter and a gram of flour are two very different things. You just can’t eyeball that shit.

ragingloli's avatar

cups have different sizes, too

Seek's avatar

Not really.

There’s cup (liquid measure) and cup (solid measure), but for my example, flour and butter, you use the same measuring cup to dole out one cup of flour and one cup of butter. 500g of flour and 500g of butter, you either need to memorize what it looks like or use a scale. And I don’t have a scale.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Seek Measuring cups can be slightly off if we’re talking servings and calorie content. Weighing is the most accurate way to measure food, but not everyone has the desire or the need for a kitchen scale. And kids in school definitely shouldn’t be expected to weigh their food. Eyeballing a cup is way more accurate than eyeballing a gram; you’re certainly right about that.

cazzie's avatar

I bake almost exclusively by weight. Cups are not accurate enough. Also, kids need to be taught more basic things like food choices, hygiene and basic health. They aren’t being taught these things at home.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Youi just showed why the class is so important .

Let the kids see the numbers. They will find that, caloriewise, fats and oils are all virtually the same. There are differences in trace nutrients.
For a first order approximation a gram of fat is 9 calories. (8.8 cal/gm),
Consider butter nutrition info almost all fat. One tbsp is ~11.5 g and contains 102 calories, 102 calories from fat. 102/11.5 = 8.8 call it 9 calories per gram. That hold true for oils too. Look at canola oil, olive oil etc… All are 9 calories per gram. The students can look at the nutrition labels and calculate it themselves.
They say a pound of body fat is about 4000 calories. 4000/454 gm/pound = 8.8 calories per gram of body fat.
Sure we can argue the number after the decimal point but that is not the point. The big takeaway is fat /oil is 9 calories per gram. If I put half an ounce of oil on my salad (12 grams) I just added 108 calories.

Now let’s look at pure carbs. Sugar. Sucrose is 3.7 calories per gram. (call it 4) Therefore A 3 gram packet of sugar is 12 calories. Doesn’t matter if it is whole earth brown stuff, or whatever. 4 calories per gram.

There are very minor difference between sucrose, dextrose, fructose but they are in the second decimal place. This is a simple rule of thumb.
Look at a sugary drinks A can of Coke is 140 calories 39 grams of sugar 140/39 = 3.6 calories per gram.

Vegetables are all different and will have much lower calories per gram numbers.
Potatoes (considered almost all carbs should be close to sugar. Lets try it. A large potato is 258 calories, 58 gm of carb. That is 4.4 calories per gram. Why is the number a little higher than sugar? Ahhh… there is a small amount of fat and protein.
The class can calculate the value of protein. (about 4 calories per gram.)

The point of the class would be to show how small changes in eating and exercise habits can affect your life. If you have a sugar coke every day for a year you are drinking an extra 51,000 calories. If you change nothing that will be stored as 12 pounds of fat .

If students learned this early it would make a difference.

JLeslie's avatar

You don’t need to understand what a gram is to figure out the calories. If the package says a serving has 4g of carbs, you just multiply by 4. Actually the label does it for you. If you are cooking from scratch, you just look up how many carbs in a serving. If you want to figure out calories and carbs and protein of food items you just need to be able to use a scale or a measuring cup and be able to multiply and add. My scale has metric and what we Americans use andnI just put it on the setting that will help me calculate the calories with the information given.

@Seek is right that it is easier to eyeball a cup or guess a cup if you need to just guess then guess how much something weighs. A cup is a cup. Unless you cook and bake with those items all the time in metric. A cup is a cup, there isnt two cup sizes. Weighing is more accurate, but for cooking accuracy is not that big of a deal. For baking it is better to be accurate, but someone we Americans are able to bake anyway.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I am not going to type out a year lesson plan I am only showing the idea. The teachers would assign homework, research, experiments etc.
Talk about vitamin deficiencies. Discuss one vitamin per day. Its use, effect on the body, signs of deficiency and sources.
This could be one of the most useful classes students can take.

JLeslie's avatar

A year? A basic lesson in nutrition teaching calorie calculation, BMR, vitamins and minerals, and how carbs, protein, and fats are broken down in the body, stored in the body, and used in the body, could easily be done in a semester. I suggested just a few weeks as part of another class, which I still think can get the basics in.

I’m just curious, has anyone on this Q taken a nutrition class?

Seek's avatar

Another maths class?

Frak that.

I did take a “health” class that went over basic nutrition.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek Basic calorie calculation is just carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 per gram.

BMR involves math too, but they have BMR calculators on line now. I wouldn’t care if a kid could actually do the math, I would just care that they understand the concept of BMR.

Can you describe what the health class went over regarding nutrition? I am just curious.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JLeslie Ok make it a semester. Split it up First part is calories in second part is calories out and third is long term effects.

Oh. I forgot one more important chemical (for adults): Alcohol That is 7 calories per gram.

Seek's avatar

There were two required classes that covered nutrition, actually.

One was a basic “health” class, that also covered the “don’t do drugs” thing and the “this is what a condom is” thing. Eat vegetables, don’t live on candy, stuff like that. This was 15 years ago, and I’m pretty sure they were still doing food pyramid at that point.

Senior year, so 11 years ago, I had to take a semester course on “personal fitness” which covered aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise, why you should stretch before working out, and also talked about some dietary stuff – why protein is good for muscle building and carbs are necessary for energy. Things like that.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek Thanks for describing the classes. Sounds like the classes were not very technical, but basic ideas about nutrition. Better than nothing. I think maybe the goals of those classes is the kids who really just live on pizza and hamburgers even at home, at least are exposed to healthier foods. I think that is a good thing. Too many people primarily eat packaged foods.

It doesn’t sound like they taught about the symptoms of certain vitamin dificiencies, why people might carb load, How many calories to maintain weight, things a little more in depth.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie I’ve taken three nutrition courses. All in college.

As for BMR, I think it’s way more important to know TDEE. So many people think they need to eat below their BMR to lose weight and eat at their BMR to maintain their weight. Unless you’re absolutely sedentary and just sit on the couch all day, you shouldn’t eat below your BMR for any extended period of time. Most people have never even heard of TDEE. For what it’s worth, it’s the amount of calories your body naturally burns throughout the day, through daily activities and exercise. Your BMR is the number of calories your body would burn naturally if you were lying in a coma.

To show why the distinction between BMR and TDEE is so important:
My BMR is 1420. My TDEE is 2200. To lose a pound a week, I can subtract 20% from my TDEE and eat 1761 calories per day. Since I’m so close to my goal weight and I need to fuel my workouts since I lift heavy, I eat about 1800 calories per day and I’m still losing. However, I’ve been told my whole life that I should be eating 1200 calories per day in order to lose weight, and way too many women seem to think that 1200 or 1300 or even 1500 is some magic number for weight loss. It’s not. All you have to do is find an online TDEE calculator, plug in your information, and it will tell you how many calories you need to eat to gain muscle, lose fat, or maintain your weight. It’s simple, but people can’t be bothered to learn these things.

I didn’t learn about TDEE in any of my nutrition courses. None of them. I didn’t discover what it was until I began doing my own research on fitness and nutrition. My life is totally different now that I know these things. I’m no longer “dieting” or restricting calories to extremely low levels in order to temporarily lose weight before I fall off the bandwagon because I’m so damn hungry and miserable. My life wasn’t changed by taking a nutrition class. The simple fact of the matter is that throwing all of this information and numbers at these kids will expose them to the information, but they aren’t going to learn it and put it to use unless they want to.

rockfan's avatar

I never talked to my cousin about his eating habits in front of other people, because I agree, that would be humiliating for him. But I’m still concerned, because he keeps reading random stuff on the internet and believing every diet myth. I’m sure that there are countless teenagers doing the exact same thing.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 When I took a nutrition class and we calculated calories to maintain weight we calculated BMR and then adjusted for physical activity. I was never taught my BMR is the number I should use for daily calorie intake. I took that class 25 years ago.

Seek's avatar

@JLeslie If they did, I don’t remember. I remember disliking both teachers – the health teacher because she conveniently lost or failed to grade my work on several occasions after I pointed out some inaccuracies in her lessons, and the second because it was taught by the gym teacher who had broken an oar over my friend’s back and gotten a two-week paid vacation for it the year before.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek Understandable why you might not remember.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie And how did you adjust for physical activity, if I may ask?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I like the BMR and TDEE calculator you mentioned. Thanks! As part of the class each student would have to calculate their number based upon weekend and weekday activities.

Seek's avatar

^ I foresee one person in each class actually doing this, and then selling copies of his work for cookies and change for the soda machine.

jca's avatar

I don’t know anybody who actually took a nutrition class, but a girl I was friends with was trying to lose weight on her own (before weight loss surgery became so popular) and she took a class at the local hospital on weight loss and it taught her all about serving sizes. How what we think of as a serving is actually 2 to 4 servings. How a serving of cereal or pasta is actually quite a small bowl. It also taught about low fat and stuff like that and she was successful with her weight loss.

gailcalled's avatar

I have a smart friend who keeps it simple; “Apple good, fudge bad.”

Or Michael Pollan’s “Eat more plants, eat less, move more.”

livelaughlove21's avatar

Low fat. Psht! Eat less. Psht! Both are unnecessary for weight loss, especially the former. I eat more now than I did when I was putting on weight. It’s not the amount of food, it’s the amount of calories that matters.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 It was a calculation, I don’t have it handy because my books are in storage, although I can search fluther for it, I have given the math before. BMR is important, because you need to know your number if you are sedentary, for those days or weeks you you don’t get to exercise for one reason or another. Most important is how many calories equal what weight for the individual person. A lot of people have a calorie number they eat when trying to lose weight, but they never bother to figure out a realistic number for maintaining weight.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 For all I know it was called TDEE and I don’t remember. We are basically
agreeing.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie I’m not sure we are. As I said, your BMR is the amount of calories you’d burn lying in a coma. Not being able to exercise isn’t the same thing. Unless you’re actually sedentary, as in bed ridden, you’d have to eat above your BMR to maintain your weight.

You may be talking about multiplying your BMR by a number (1.5, 2, etc.) based on whether you’re inactive, lightly active, etc. But it’s a pretty inaccurate calculation. Who says what “lightly active” even means? And that means these kids should be eating more or less calories daily depending on their activity. TDEE is a much simpler way to do it, and a much more accurate calculation for most.

Seek's avatar

Hey, not bad. That thing says my maintenance caloric intake is over 2000 per day. I considered a 5–10 mile bike ride most days to be “moderate exercise”. Don’t know if that’s right.

Still, 2000 calories sounds like more than I normally eat anyway, unless there’s cake involved.

I love cake.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 All I mean is I never was trying to imply BMR dictates how much someone should eat in a day. It only is the basic amount needed for basic body functions. I think we agree there. When I said teach BMR, I never was saying don’t teach TDEE. I’m fine with teaching it.

The calculator you linked is always talking about losing weight or changing muscle ratio, it doesn’t address maintainence, unless I misunderstood. I think it’s good for a nutrition class to just focus on the weight goal and what calories and exercise are needed for that weight. If a person weighs more, then they will lose weight on the calorie count and that’s where they will stay is on that calorie count to maintain. They can lose faster if they cut more calories of course, but then they can’t live on that calorie count. With very young people especially I rather not talk in terms of “dieting.”

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie The site I linked is geared toward cutting fat or bulking muscle, yes, but there are more basic TDEE calculators out there, like this one. TDEE is maintenance, though. It’s the amount of calories you need to eat to stay the same weight. BMR is a fine number to know (I never use it, though), but I’m just saying that the distinction between BMR and TDEE should be made clear when teaching a nutrition course. I think it’s absolutely crazy how many people have never even heard of it.

And, with all the weight loss and dieting obsession happening, I think it’s really important to try and prevent the, “I need to eat below my BMR in order to lose weight” mentality that so many adolescent and adult women (and some men) have.

Also, I said nothing about dieting. I’m not on a diet. I’m losing body fat by simply changing my eating habits and working out, which I will continue to do once I hit my goal with only minor modifications. Promoting being at a healthy weight shouldn’t be avoided for any age group.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I didn’t think you were emphasizing dieting. I also think eating below someone’s BMR number is a bad idea, I never suggested it. I really do think we are agreeing. As I said, I think people should eat to be their ideal weight (realizing that number is a little tricky depending on the person, muscle mass etc, and each individual tweaks that number over time) and then the losing or gaining weight takes care of itself.

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