The Academic Downside of ‘Western’ Diets

Go Lean Commentary

“You are what you eat”. – Old Adage

Western Diet 1This rule appears to be true not just for the individual, but for the community as well. According to this subsequent news article, communities suffer in their academic performance where a larger percentage of adolescents are obese or eat poorly. So this is not just a micro problem, but a macro one as well.

This is an important consideration, not just for health care or wellness, but for educational concerns and community competitiveness as well.

The publishers of the book Go Lean…Caribbean seeks to elevate Caribbean communities by optimizing the societal engines for economics, security and governance – these are identified as our prime directives. It has long been accepted that education reform – as a subset of economics – would be inclusive of this effort, but now it looks like optimizing the Caribbean diet must also be part-and-parcel of this quest.

It goes without saying that academic competitiveness would affect a community’s economic dispositions. But it may be judged as “a stretch” to liken food choices as an important economic concern, but if the above adage is to be considered factual, then yes, we are what we eat. According to the following story, the Western Diet – inclusive of the Caribbean – has a serious academic downside. See the full story here:

Title: The Academic Downside Of ‘Western’ Diets
By: Sam P.K. Collins

Proponents of healthier school lunches have one more reason to frame the issue as a public health matter. A new study suggests that the “Western” diet — defined as selections of red meat, sugary desserts, high-calorie food, and refined grains — may be detrimental to a child’s cognitive development, ultimately hampering their academic performance.

Researchers polled more than 2,800 adolescents about their dietary choices and examined their standardized test scores. Once they controlled for variations in body mass index readings and physical activity levels, they found that students who ate mostly vegetables and whole grains scored an average of 7 percent higher in mathematics, writing, and reading compared to their counterparts who ate a “Western” diet.

“Adolescence is a sensitive period for brain development and a vulnerable time of life with respect to nutrition. Therefore, public health policies and health promotion programs should rigorously target the issue of food intake during this stage of individual development,” the study read. “To date, this is one of the few studies to report on the associations between dietary patterns and academic performance; therefore, more prospective studies are required to support our findings.”

The study, published in a recent issue of Nutrients journal, followed a separate experiment in which the same research group gave an older group of youth computerized cognitive exams. Teens who had a “Western” diet more than likely skipped breakfast frequently. Researchers said that doing so delayed development of reasoning and learning skills. Studies conducted in Canada, Sweden, and Iceland at the turn of the decade also linked fruits, vegetables, and milk to higher academic achievement among teens.

MapThese findings come amid exploding rates of childhood obesity and increased scrutiny of the fast food industry. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that eating fast food sporadically doesn’t result in nutrition deficiency, the government agency warns the high-sugar, high-salt meals found at popular fast food franchises can cause memory loss and slow brain development in children. Those meals lack calcium, iron, Vitamin C, and zinc — nutrients that experts say help stimulate cognitive development.

Research has shown that a healthy morning meal in tandem with physical activity can increase a child’s brain activity and improve their disposition toward school. Such thinking has compelled efforts to revamp nutritional standards and expand access to healthy school meals.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, up for reauthorization this year, sets policy for the United States Department of Agriculture’s food programs. Since the law’s passage, more than $385 million in locally grown produce has entered the nation’s cafeterias. More than one million students across the country have benefited — eating not only healthy breakfasts and lunches, but also nutritious dinners, as part of an after-school snack component of the program.

Decades prior, the status quo disadvantaged children of color and those living in low-income areas with subpar education systems. Without nearby sources of healthy food, youngsters living in food deserts — urban enclaves where it’s difficult to purchase affordable or high-quality food — often depend on fast food and corner store offerings for sustenance. The fast food industry’s aggressive marketing tactics in those areas, as outlined in a recent Arizona State University study, don’t make it easier to encourage healthy food choices.

While opponents of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act argue that students aren’t responding positively to menu changes, data compiled in the recent years paints a different picture. A 2014 Harvard survey, for example, found that students are eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit with their lunch. The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity also found that students discarded their lunches less often under the new nutrition standards.

“We encourage Congress to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, since its implementation, has changed how school districts prepare foods ensuring that district funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs meet more nutritious meal guidelines and restricts the serving of fatty and non-nutritious foods and beverages, including vending machines,” The Monitor’s editorial staff wrote on Tuesday.

“This measure, we believe, has dramatically altered the conversation about foods in American schools for the better. And we want to see this discussion continue in the right direction and not allow children to revert back to bad eating habits,” the editorial continued.

The controversy around the “Western” diet isn’t limited only to students’ academic performance. Earlier this year, scientists attributed those food choices to the development of colon cancer in a study where a group of African Americans and South Africans switched diets for 10 days. The experiment, in part, opened conversations about the potentially dire health effects of a high-fat, high sugar diet.
Source: Think Progress Digital Magazine – (Posted 09/29/2015; retrieved 10/27/2015) –

There are some strong points being made in this article:

Adolescence is a sensitive period for brain development and a vulnerable time of life with respect to nutrition.

… and …

We want to see this discussion continue in the right direction and not allow children to revert back to bad eating habits.

These points helps us to appreciate the gravity of this issue. This constitutes the heavy-lifting that the Go Lean book posits that is necessary to elevate Caribbean society.

Why so hard?

The Go Lean roadmap seeks to have the Caribbean do even better than the American model reported here. We do not want to follow the American food standards (Standard American Diet = SAD); we want to exceed it.

We recognize that it is a heavy-lifting task. There are so many societal defects in the region and we need effective strategies, tactics and implementation just to effect a turn-around. But now, to try and do even better than the American eco-system, when it comes to food seems like such a “tall order”.

It is not!

As previously discussed, the American eco-system is plagued with societal defects; one in particular: Crony-Capitalism. The Greater Good for so many aspects of American life has been hijacked for the private gains of special interest groups. In this case, the indictment is on Big Agra or more specifically, the agribusiness concerns as they fight common sense food labeling efforts, induce so much steroids in meat production and exacerbate greenhouse gases. These ones prove to be “bad actors” despite any promotion of up-building community values. They even bully family farmers to crowd out the wholesale markets for larger and larger shares, see VIDEO in the Appendix below. Lastly, they engage in abusive labor practices with large portions of their labor force – migrant workers.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU), a confederation of all 30 member-states in the region. This effort is an initiative to bring change and empowerment to the Caribbean region, to make the region a better place to live, work, learn, heal and play even better than our American neighbors enjoy. The book recognized the significance of our culture. This is why a discussion on food choices and diet is such a significant topic. “We are what we eat” and food defines our culture. From the outset, the book reported this pronouncement in the opening Declaration of Interdependence (Page 14):

xxxii.    Whereas the cultural arts … of the region are germane to the quality of Caribbean life, and the international appreciation of Caribbean life, the Federation must implement the support systems to teach, encourage, incentivize, monetize and promote the related industries … These endeavors will make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.

The book asserts that Crony-Capitalism is not the only option. We can enjoy the foods of our dynamic cultures and build up our economy at the same time. This is not a binary issue. We can have great food, healthy options and still support jobs and other economic activities. This fact was also pronounced in that opening Declaration of Interdependence (Page 14):

xxvi.    Whereas the Caribbean region must have new jobs to empower the engines of the economy and create the income sources for prosperity, and encourage the next generation to forge their dreams right at home, the Federation must therefore foster the development of new industries, like that of … frozen foods … impacting the region with more jobs.

xxx.    Whereas the effects of globalization can be felt in every aspect of Caribbean life, from the acquisition of food and clothing, to the ubiquity of ICT, the region cannot only consume, it is imperative that our lands also produce and add to the international community, even if doing so requires some sacrifice and subsidy.

The Go Lean movement, in presenting an empowerment roadmap for the region hereby examines the reality and consequences of food and diet in the day-to-day affairs of Caribbean people. While we do not want to endanger personal freedoms, there must be a set of community values that are promoted. These are defined in the underlying Go Lean book as “community ethos” or the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices; dominant assumptions of a people.

This is the quest of the Go Lean roadmap; to impact the Caribbean region in a comprehensive manner, starting with the values, or what’s in our heart, and then to elevate society with the execution of our prime directives, defined with these 3 statements:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion GDP and create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improvement of Caribbean governance, including a separation-of-powers with the member-states, to support these engines.

The book describe the CU as a hallmark of a technocracy, a commitment to efficiency and effectiveness. Yet still there is the commitment to fun, happiness, beauty, art and self-actualization of our culture. The Go Lean roadmap was constructed with the community ethos in mind to forge change, plus the execution of related strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to make the change permanent. The following is a sample of these specific details from the book:

Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principles – People Choose Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principles – People Respond to Incentives in Predictable Ways Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principles – The Consequences of Choices Lie in the Future Page 21
Community Ethos – Governing Principles – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact Research & Development – Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine Page 30
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact Turn-Around Page 33
Community Ethos – Ways to Promote Happiness – Promotion of Domestic Cultural Institutions Page 36
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Mission – Build and foster local economic engines to satiate food needs Page 45
Strategy – Mission – Celebrate the Culture and Cuisine of the Caribbean Page 46
Strategy – Customers – Outreach to Caribbean Diaspora Page 47
Strategy – Agents of Change – Globalization Page 57
Tactical –   Confederating a Permanent Union Page 63
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Creating   $800 Billion Economy – New High Multiplier Industries – Frozen Foods Page 70
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Department of State – Culture Administration Page 81
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Department of Education – Regional Directives Page 85
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Food / Nutritional Administrations Page 87
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Agriculture & Fisheries Licensing – Inspections Page 88
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Farm & Marine Credit – Economic Influence Page 88
Implementation – Ways to Pay for Change Page 101
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Implementation – Ways to Benefit from Globalization – Dynamics of Food Supply Page 119
Implementation – Ways to Promote Independence – Food Interdependence Page 119
Planning – 10 Big Ideas for the Caribbean Region – 4 Languages & Culture in Unison Page 127
Planning – Ways to Improve Trade – Diaspora Marketing Page 128
Planning – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 136
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Cancer – Promote Wellness – Better Diets Page 157
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage Food Consumption Page 162
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Communications – Public Broadcasting of “Sound-bites” Page 186
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Events – Food Festivals Page 191
Advocacy – Ways to Develop Frozen Foods Page 208
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Fisheries Page 210
Advocacy – Ways to Preserve Caribbean Heritage – Promote Culture Page 218
Advocacy – Ways to Improve the Arts Page 230
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Urban Living – Promotion of Farmers Markets Page 234
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Rural Living – Agricultural Co-existence Mandate Page 235

This roadmap wants to change the Caribbean diet plan, branded Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine: more fiber, less fats; more green vegetables, less processed food; no more “SAD”. We must start this in the schools so as to effect the habits of our youth.

The hope is that when they grow-up they will not depart from those new values. This is a basic premise in Judeo-Christian religious doctrine; as stated here in the Bible:

Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 (ASV)

We have so many reasons to lean-in to the ethos, values and principles of this Go Lean roadmap. But according to the foregoing news article, we should also have academic motivations. Our children will not advance (academically) as well as they should, or as other regions do around the world.

Education is presented as a priority for every government in the Caribbean member-states; it is our only hope of competing on the world stage. (Globalization is presented in the Go Lean book as an agent-of-change, so we cannot opt-out of the competition). It is time to “put our money where our mouth is”; or better stated, “to put in our mouths where we hope to get our money”.

Education policy has been a prominent topic for the Go Lean movement. We have detailed education policies, strategies and tactics in many previous Go Lean blog/commentaries. See sample here: Education & Economics: US President Efforts to Reform For-Profit Education: Plenty of Profit; Little Education Extracurricular Music Programs Boost Students Ann Arbor: Model for ‘Start-up’ Cities Role Model: Innovative Educator Ron Clark FAMU is No. 3 for Facilitating Economic Opportunity Is a Traditional 4-year Degree a Terrible Investment?

As depicted by the S.A.D. references, the Go Lean expectation is not to allow the American eco-system to lead the Caribbean’s reform efforts. The plan is for more of the Caribbean food supply to originate locally and to institute some new standards: Nouvelle Caribbean Cuisine. The Caribbean succeeded before in forging great culinary traditions based on the best-practices of the time in the past, (think the abundance of seafood recipes), we can do this again with a focus on the future.

While this plan is conceivable, believable and achievable, it can also be delicious. 🙂

Everyone is urged to lean-in for the empowerments in the Go Lean roadmap.

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean  – now!


Appendix VIDEO – John Oliver Commentary on Chicken Production –

Published on May 17, 2015 – John Oliver explains how chicken farming can be unfair, punishing, and inhumane. And not just for the chickens! Pardon the coarse language.


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