Freshmen Kristina Woof drinks a carton of low-fat 1% milk on Mar 2. A healthy and nutritious option for her body.
Photo by Kaydence Young

This story was written by Promethean Staff members, in collaboration with the staff of the Spartan Spin

How many high school students know what kind of food is going into their bodies?  In a survey answered by 91 students at Superior High School (SHS), 55% of students answered that they ate at least one cup of fruit per day and 41.8% said that they ate at least one cup of vegetables per day. However, 100 percent of students, children and adults need at least two and a half cups of both fruit and vegetables, said UW-Superior campus dietician Katrina Goehring. 

“You should eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. One serving includes one cup raw or half a cup of cooked fruits or vegetables,” Goehring said. It is also recommended that you drink about 6-12 glasses of water a day, but daily fluid intake recommendations vary by age, sex, pregnancy, and breastfeeding status, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Lonely pears sit on the lunchroom sharing table at SHS on Mar. 2. A frequent occurrence and an alarming signal that teens may not be eating enough fruits or vegetables.
Photo by Kaydence Young

“U.S. adolescents who drink less water tend to drink less milk, eat less fruits and vegetables, drink more sugar-sweetened beverages, eat more fast food, and get less physical activity,” according to the CDC web page

Of the 91 survey participants from SHS, 65.2% of students said they were either not comfortable or sometimes not comfortable with their own bodies. A key part of maintaining a healthy diet and improving self-image and mental health is mindfulness. Mindfulness, as defined by Randy Barker, the Interim Director of Health Counseling and Well-Being at UWS, is “present moment awareness. At the most fundamental level, it’s increasing what’s happening in our minds, throughout our bodies, and in the world around us.”

“When we’re talking about eating and nutrition, we’re often ‘mindless’ — doing what we’ve always done and not being aware of what we eat.” Barker described several ways that mindfulness can be helpful. “It enhances the experience of eating. It tends to slow down people’s eating. It allows our brain and stomach to know that we’re full.” Not skipping meals, drinking water, and taking in less sugar are all part of being mindful of what goes into our bodies. 

Maintaining proper nutrition is a very important part of having balanced mental health. “Our diet has a significant impact on our mental health and it’s very important to pay attention to how we’re fueling our bodies,” said Amy LaRue, a senior lecturer of Health and Human Performance. “We have trillions of bacteria that live and work in our gut, which are collectively referred to as our microbiome. Research has found the direct connection that our microbiome has to our brain, and in turn, our mental/cognitive health. By improving or maintaining a healthy diet, it is possible to improve our brain health.”

Alongside nutrition, enhancing fitness with regular exercise to tone, strengthen, and release endorphins should also be focused on.

“Physical activity should be a part of everyone’s life. The National Institutes of Health recommends 60 minutes of activity per day,” Goehring said. “Activities can include walking or jogging, online exercise classes, dancing, or riding your bike. Household chores and gardening can also count as activity. You should be moving on a regular basis throughout your day. Setting a reminder on your phone to get up and walk for a few minutes every hour during the day is a great way to keep moving.”

Sophmore Savannah Doughtery enjoys one of her favorite beverages: a Starbucks latte on Mar 2.
Photo by Kaydence Young

Many students also worry about tracking their body mass index (BMI) or their body fat percentage. LaRue says this isn’t necessarily the best way to track changes in your body. “There are a lot of factors that someone should be mindful of when tracking information related to health; it is important to pay attention and to pull all of the known information together, rather than just focusing on one specific number.”

Barker, who is also the interim director for the Pruitt Center for Mindfulness and Well-Being, also shared how the Pruitt Center works to help students, staff, and community members be more mindful. “At the Pruitt Center, we work to promote and enhance the science and practice of mindfulness and well-being. Our methods are based in science, so we know that they are reliable and tested. We also use teachable, learnable skills that require practice,” said Barker.

The Center focuses on nine different domains through what they call the PERMANENT Well-Being Model. Present moment awareness, Emotional intelligence, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement, Needing sleep, Exercise, Nutrition, and Thinking encompass the model. 

Food insecurity is a problem that many Superiorites struggle with. As Barker noted, “many people don’t have the luxury of having three meals a day.” Trying to address these needs is one of the biggest challenges that the Pruitt Center faces. “UW-Superior has done a fantastic job recently with the food shelf. We feel it’s vital because we can’t expect people to learn and function if they don’t have food to be putting into their body and mind.” 

Sophmore Trevor Bickford’s lunch consists of low-fat white milk, a quesadilla, and a low-fat bag of Cheetos on Mar. 2. All of these food meet the state nutrition requirements.
Photo by Kaydence Young

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many students are struggling with their diet and mental health due to the extra time spent in the house. LaRue wants students to remember how critical it is to be mindful of their choices during their extra time at home. While it may be easier to withdraw, watch Netflix, and eat comfort food, these decisions are bad for our overall health. “It is not always the easy choice to eat right and exercise, but we have to be intentional about how we take care of our bodies,” said LaRue.  When we exercise, our bodies release a number of mood-boosting hormones that are responsible for boosting our mental health. 

LaRue offered some advice to students who are considering making a change to their diet and exercise routines. “Be intentional about taking care of your body now. Now during this time of unknown and stress. Now while you are young. Work to understand how nutrition and exercise are vital to your physical and mental health and be intentional about making good choices.”

Editor’s Note: This story was co-written by UWS student Michael Michelizzi and Superior High School (SHS) student Kaydence Young. This piece was part of a series of collaborative efforts between the journalism class at SHS and the Promethean staff, nicknamed the Catlin Connection. Michael can be reached at mmichel1@uwsuper.edu while Kaydence can be contacted at kaydenceyoung@superior.k12.wi.us.