6282545159_cf310ba66d_bAs a high school student living in Florida, I have seen firsthand the effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise on teenagers and young adults. Never before has the health of American students been in such a dire state. Malnutrition and inactive lifestyles take a huge toll on not only the well-being of students but on the education system as a whole. If students don’t have the nutrients they need, education is the least of their worries. Malnourished students may suffer from lack of energy, dizziness, and can often develop chronic and sometimes life-threatening lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

What can we do about this crisis? Is it too late to do anything? No. Now, more than ever is the time to act. We need to teach students the importance of regular exercise and basic nutrition and we need to do it now. Tea can play an important part in this mission. By replacing soda and other sugary beverages with fresh, high-quality and unsweetened tea in school cafeterias, we can drastically reduce the amount of sugar and other harmful chemicals consumed by students. Although tea can have a huge positive impact on the health of teenagers, it isn’t the only thing that needs to be done. By demanding fresh, high-quality, and nutritious lunch menus for school cafeterias, we can ensure that students are getting the nutrients they need for at least one meal every weekday. By demanding more affordable prices for high-quality and fresh fruits and vegetables, we can make it easier for students and families to make healthy choices the next time they are in their local grocery store. By educating students on the basics of nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle, we prepare them for a life of healthy choices and well-being.

According to an article published by the Washington Post, sugary drinks are linked to an estimated 125 deaths per million people every year in the US alone. That’s about 40,000 deaths per year and those are only the adult deaths! Since I’ve joined T Ching as an Intern Social Media Editor, I have stopped consuming “diet” sodas and sugary beverages and I am surprised at how easy it was! I started to make my own unsweetened ice tea to drink as a replacement. Since then, I’ve had more energy, I’ve lost weight, and I feel much better in general. Cutting out soda and other sugary drinks from school cafeteria menus and campus vending machines means greatly limiting student’s exposure and consumption of sugar and harmful chemicals. Instead, they should be replaced by fresh, high-quality and unsweetened tea. When brewed properly, good tea does not need any sweetener at all and can have fantastic health benefits. The change from soda to tea in schools is not only healthier but also more economic. If a high quality, whole leaf tea is used, the tea leaves can be infused again and again until they lose flavour.

If you are a High School student like I am, you know that eating cafeteria lunches can be a dismal and depressing affair. While some school cafeterias offer salads along with their stale pizza, french fries and chocolate milk, they are often small, tasteless, and uninteresting unless they are smothered with caesar or ranch salad dressing. This needs to stop. Food served to students on campuses must satisfy the nutritional needs of the human body and promote health at the same time. It’s time that school lunch menus be developed by nutritionists and not by accountants. The health of students, the health of the future workforce, should matter more to us than shaving a few cents off the production cost of each school lunch.

According to a study done by the University of Washington, heavily refined “junk” food is much cheaper than whole, fresh foods. The study reported that refined foods cost an average of $1.76 per 1,000 calories, while more nutrient rich, whole foods cost an average of $18.16 per 1,000 calories. The prices of “good” food are only expected to increase over the next few years, taking fresh, nutritious and healthy foods out of reach for many families. If this doesn’t seem like a problem to you, it should. When families are cash-strapped, they are forced into buying the most cost-efficient food they can. In today’s society, cost-efficient food means junk food. According to feedingamerica.org, 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households as of 2014. That frightening statistic includes 15.3 million children. Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to food. We need to demand lower costs for healthy and nutritious foods. Health is a necessity, not a luxury and the costs of food should express that.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do for the health of students is to educate them on proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. By arming them with knowledge early on, we prepare them to go through life making healthy choices. We allow them the opportunity to know why they should reach for a fresh garden salad instead of last night’s pizza or fried chicken when they rummage through their refrigerator.

Replacing soda with tea, demanding fresh and nutritious school lunches, demanding lower prices for healthy foods, and educating students on basic nutrition are the things that need to be done to ensure better health for American students. Students are the future of America. The health of today’s students is the health of tomorrow’s America.