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THOUGHT LEADER


It is not a coincidence that the countries with the


lowest levels of obesity have had the fewest COVID-19 deaths: China’s obesity rate is 6 percent; it is 42 per- cent in the U.S. A major thing one can do to improve the chances of not getting infected by, or dying from, COVID-19 is to be in better general health. A major ele- ment of that health is an improved diet. It is particularly important to get healthy food into poor neighborhoods. We can at least partly control the school component


of these diets (particularly if we can provide two of each student’s three basic meals in school on the three days per week that he or she physically attends school). We cannot fully adopt an Asian diet, particularly as children need milk for proper growth. But at the high school levels, whole milk can be replaced by low-fat milk or, where affordable, nut- or oat-based, non-dairy “milk.” Butter can be replaced by olive oil-based substitutes. Sugar can be replaced by Stevia. And we can cut down on sandwiches and burgers. It will certainly be more dif- ficult and costly to sustain these improvements outside of school. But these challenges can be met for school meals with a moderate amount of additional funding, or perhaps none, since we are already providing break- fast and lunch to large numbers of students. And under this model, they will be physically attending school only three days a week. Also, our failure to police children from smoking and


more recently vaping must stop. We simply cannot allow students with such habits to attend physical school during a respiratory pandemic. It is also important that our commercial drivers’ health


improves radically. Largely because of their high per- centage of obesity, roughly half of American bus and truck drivers possess obstructive sleep apnea. It makes little sense to go to such great extents and costs to protect our students from COVID-19 only to see small busfulls killed and injured when their drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Also, the nature and frequency of physical education


must change. To survive the pandemic, and return to “metabolic health,” we need a 45-minute (minimum) session of serious physical fitness exercise every day, either face-to-face or by Zoom. No more tag, dodgeball, softball or other “play periods.” Instead, jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, and lots of jogging, wind sprints and running-in-place. As long as we have COVID-19, gym class may not be much fun. Too bad. Our goal now is not to have fun. It is to survive. There is reasonable hope that the health improve-


ments needed can be achieved. According to one highly-respected nutritional expert, Dr. Darius Moz- zaffarian of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science


50 School Transportation News • OCTOBER 2020


and Policy at Tufts University, only 12 percent of Amer- icans are “metabolically healthy”—an envelope defined, narrowly, by a normal waist circumference, normal levels of cholesterol and glucose, and normal levels of hypertension. But Dr. Mozzaffarian claims that, with the right choices and effort, those not abnormally obese or otherwise ill can return to metabolic health in six weeks. Of course, there are realistic limits to how healthy many students with disabilities can become. But as the most vulnerable, special ed students require physical school with the changes noted, the most. We must meet this difficult challenge. More challenging is the fact that so many families cannot afford healthy food. Growing numbers cannot afford any food. While not transportation or educational issues, these child health and safety issues must be ad- dressed. Clearly, there are significant economic barriers to this larger challenge, particularly given the poverty of so much of our pre-pandemic population. Now, with the widespread collapse of our economy (including tens of millions unemployed) and the threat of eviction for tens of millions of families, the economic constraints for re- turning students to good health are even more daunting. Schools must necessarily play a greater role in student health than ever before. And our educators much play an increased role in conveying the importance of improved health among the general population. Without these im- provements, the other accomplishments of this model lie at great risk, and the effort could collapse.


Sleep, System Design and Routing Numerous medical experts feel that the quality, dura-


tion and times of one’s sleep are even more important than his or her nutrition. Most individuals’ sleep/wakefulness cycles tend to fall


into two patterns: Those whose natural sleep/wakeful- ness cycles are shorter than one rotation of the planet on its axis (i.e., 24 hours), and those whose natural cycles are longer. But the late sleepers (who often have longer than 24-hour natural sleep/wakefulness cycles) cannot realistically arise early enough to attend early morning school sessions, either physically or by Zoom. If they can even remain awake, many will be too dopey to learn anything. A huge number of any nation’s population are unavoidably “owls.” Nothing but serious evening drugs (i.e., sleeping pills) and morning drugs (e.g., caffeine) can change this. But such “solutions” are accompanied by dangerous, often life-long consequences. They are not responsible solutions for most children. As a result of different sleep/wakefulness cycles, we cannot simply divide a school district’s service area into four quadrants and serve all students in each quadrant one


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