In the Lessons of the Nation of Islam, there is a question that asks “Why does a man still have fear even though he is a big man?” The answer relates to him eating the wrong food ever since he was a baby, which caused him to be full of fear as he grew. We should be especially careful of what we allow our children to eat in light of this age of convenience. Today, we are willing to give our children almost anything, just so they would have “something to eat” and we can go about our business. I’m glad most of the talks I have had with my daughter have sunk in or are starting to sink in.
We were traveling recently and the waiter at the restaurant asked my daughter if she wanted french fries and she said, “No.” And I said, “Are you sure?” She said, “No, I don’t want any.” I was surprise and asked her again. Finally, the waiter said, “Does Mommy want French Fries?” I was embarrassed because I secretly wanted to “share” this fried food with my daughter. I should be proud that she is taking heed to at least some of the things I have been trying to teach her. (However, on another occasion, she has tried to convince me that “a cherry lollipop probably has some Vitamin C in it.”)
Food lays the foundation for a healthy mind and body, but it starts with teaching children about health. The children at Browns Mill Elementary School in Lithonia, Ga. are lucky to attend what is considered the first “sugar-free” school in the nation. Yvonne Saunders-Butler, a 47- year-old Black principal of the school, had a wake-up call in 1996 when she was sent to the hospital for high blood pressure. She decided to change her diet, exercise with weights and the treadmill and lost 60 pounds. She also took another step to encourage those around her by removing refined sugars and revamping her school’s lunch and physical education classes in 1999.
According to the November 19th issue of People Magazine featuring Ms. Saunders-Butler, “Within a year student disciplinary problems dropped, as did visits to the school nurse, while math and reading scores improved by 15 percent.” The article also quotes Dr. John Maupin, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine saying, “Studies show that when you take sugar out of the diet, you will reap the benefits of a child who is more attentive.”
Ms. Saunders-Butler’s book, “Healthy Kids, Smart Kids,” is definitely an inspiration. Some of her suggestions remind me of my daughter’s old preschool, which only allowed fruit or vegetables for snacks and served only water, milk or 100 fruit juice. Many of the 3-and 4-year-olds were focused and reading, along with my daughter.
The Oct. 30 issue of USA Today featured an article entitled, “Exercise builds strong brains.” The article states that, “A new study reports that children who play vigorously for 20 to 40 minutes a day may be better able to organize schoolwork, do class projects and learn mathematics.” In the study, the children were divided into 3 groups: a control group that did no physical activity after school; a group that did 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity five days a week; and a group that did 40 minutes of such activity on those same days.
Those in the 40 minute activity group had significant improvement on executive function skills, which include planning, organizing, focusing on schoolwork, resisting impulses and self-monitoring. Those in the exercise groups saw a small improvement in math achievement and lost 1 percent-2 percent body fat.
It’s not surprising that quite a few athletes do well academically also. Organized sports help to teach teamwork, coordination, flexibility and organization skills. Studies have also shown that young girls involved in sports have higher self-esteem and are less likely to become a teenage mom.
In “Torchlight for America,” Minister Farrakhan states, “Our bodies are controlled by the mind. So, mastering economics should not be as difficult with this thought in mind. This body takes in and separates what is useful, puts it to productive use, and eliminates what is wasteful…It’s imperative to teach people about themselves, their history, their bodies and their nature so that they can become self masters. Mastery of self is the key to mastery of all disciplines because in some way every discipline is present within ourselves ( p. 50).”
Let us give our children the gift of a more productive life by encouraging healthy eating and exercise by being an example ourselves. May Allah (God) bless us all with peace, health, wealth and happiness.
(Audrey Muhammad is a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer. She is also the author of the audiobook, “Get Fit to Live: Be your best you!” Questions and comments may be sent to [email protected]. Please consult a physician before beginning any new exercise or dietary program.)