Staples Students Challenge Obesity

Which is more incongruous:  58 teenagers volunteering to spend 12 hours working at school (on a Sunday!), or chowing down junk food while trying to solve the problem of obesity?

Both happened earlier this month. The event was Staples’ 2nd annual Spectacular Student Challenge. For $12,5000 in prize money, 12 teams of students sacrificed sleep, engaged their brains, pooled their wits and downed enormous quantities of chips, soda and other obesity-inducing delights.

Early Sunday morning — alertly remembering the start of daylight savings time — 12 teams assembled in separate classrooms.  Each team received this year’s topic:  America’s alarming increase in overweight children and adults has wreaked havoc on health, health costs and the economy.

The “Challenge”:  design a persuasive campaign, a “pitch” and a researched report to convince the Westport community to follow a plan encouraging lifestyle change and healthy living.

The report had to answer questions like:

What factors contribute to a rise in obesity levels in the U.S., as compared to other industrialized countries?

How has obesity impacted society so far?  How will it do so in the future?  How is that effect quantifiable?

What realistic steps can schools, the Westport community, town and state governments, and private groups take to solve the problem?

What obstacles will your plan encounter, and how will you address them?

How will you measure your plans’ effectiveness over time?

Campaigns would be judged on creativity and well-analyzed data.  The information had to be well organized, and bibliographically cited.  Visual and multi-media aids were strongly encouraged.

Taking a rare break from their work (from left): sophomores Marcus Russi, Judy Feng, Robert DeLuca, Martha Whammond and Amanda Wildstein.

Stopping only for food, the students went to work.  They researched numbers, and dug into history.  They analyzed data, synthesized ideas and modeled solutions.  They thought outside the box, tossed aside the boxes that didn’t work, and dove into snack boxes.

They created pitches, argued over the best way to present them, came to consensus, then had to actually design them — in a variety of media.

It was education at its core.  And it spoke directly to Staples’ school goal:  understand a local theme with much larger real-world implications, and work collaboratively using math, science, social studies and English skills to craft a solution.

Senior Cole Manley’s group, for example, came up with a plan that included making bike lanes in Westport more expansive and convenient; eliminating all trans fats in Westport restaurants; making student lunches healthier through more diverse offerings (and more fruits and vegetables), and revising the phys. ed. curriculum to get more students exercising.

This group included (from left) Jeremy Rubel, Michelle Mastriani, Petey Menz, Michael Menz and Cole Manley.

Finally — 12 hours, and many Cheez Doodles and pizzas later — the 12 teams were done.

Cole’s team sent their paper off with 5 minutes to spare.  Interspersed with calculus graphs of obesity percentages were Norman Rockwell drawings of youngsters exercising.

Now, a team of teachers is reviewing all 12 papers.  The top 6 teams will make a presentation to a panel of judges on April 26.

Members of the winning team get $6,000, to be used as scholarship funds for college.  The next 2 teams will share another $6,500.  Prize money was donated by the Gudis Family Foundation, and the Melissa & Doug educational toy company.

Then the winners will go out to celebrate.  With a dinner at Whole Foods.

40 responses to “Staples Students Challenge Obesity

  1. Hush McCormick

    Wow! This is the direction that education should take. I am not sure why the students had to feed their tummies with the nasty stuff before reaching a solid conclusion. But it is quite simple: determine the amount of calories that are needed to maintain your ideal weight and keep a daily journal of how much you eat (e.g a 160 pound man needs 2,000 calories to keep that weight) AND discontinue all processed foods (i.e. if it comes in a box, you can’t have it). Try it for 30 days and you will see a huge difference.

  2. Every decade, our caloric needs change, so feeding active teens junk isn’t terrible, unless they make it a lifestyle.
    I’m very curious about what the students have concluded.

    • Does Laz stand for lazy? For what the teens eat at youth is what they tend to eat later in life when it turns to fat easily. Don’t condone the intake junk food for the kids. Wrong message. It is terrible no matter what the age.

      • I’ve been called lazy, usually as a complement reflecting on some clever way to accomplish a task with minimum effort. I don’t read the same books, drink the same drinks, or hang out with the same friends I did when I was a kid. I also eat differently now. Although I’ve resisted, it really hasn’t been that difficult to grow up.

    • Where do you think ADD comes from? Junk for kids is a definitely no!

      • If you’re going to blame environment for ADD, then you’d best focus on TV, the internet, and over-scheduling before you get to too much sugar. Of course, if kids had more time to relax, read a book, and enjoy life, they’d gain weight.

        • ADD is a chemical imbalane. Diet is often helpful in lessening its symptoms. I know many who run 5 miles a day, read a book and love life.

  3. My buddy Bill Rodgers eats junk food every day and he is a fomer Olympic marathoner. They key is to get off your butt and move. Running preferred.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Lazy: You seem to have that Sarah Palin attitude that it is okay to bring kids cookies at school. Ask any teacher, after a sugar filled lunch, the kids are a menace. There have been no clinical studies that indicate ADD is caused from any of the aspects you mentioned but kids w/out sugar is a definite plus. The time to teach proper eating habits is when they are young. If a child learns to eat well as a child, he has a 82% chance of not becoming obese as an adult. In a country that is 65% obese, those are pretty good odds.

    • Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. — C.S. Lewis

      • The Dude Abides

        Yeah I am sure Lewis didn’t have to pay higher health health premiums for the increasing number of diabetics in his world.

        • You beef is with the goverrnment that makes you your brother’s keeper. The externality of which you complain is not inherent to eating anything.

          • The Dude Abides

            I have no idea what you mean?

          • Who forces you to pay the higher premiums? Not the guy eating the sugar.

          • The Dude Abides

            Do you understand the principles of insurance??? The healthy pay for the sickly. The more sickly, the more you pay.

          • I understand that the goverrnment establishes the terms of all health insurance policies, and I understand that you have a choice (or did before the current bully in the WH took office) to not have health insurance, and I understand that you are forced at the point of a gun to pay for Medicare. I understand that absent the government you would not need to pay for the stupidity of others. I understand further that absent the government, the rates paid for health insurance could more nearly reflect the eating habits and behavior of the policy holders. The government has set the underwriting standards, and you are paying the bill. The guy eating the sugar is not forcing you to pay for his choices, the government is. Now, you and the other “moral busybodies” want to control the behavior of others based upon an externality created entirely by the government; totalitarianism.

          • The Dude Abides

            Is this the same Anonymous? Lord are you off base. The new laws under Obamacare do not set the rates for the premiums. They discontinued preconsisting conditions and broadened the number who are required to have insurance. That increases the pool and hopefully, decreases the premiums. That is the theory. But sugar is a drug. Trust me, I have battled it for most of my life. It is addictive and detrimental to one’s health. 65% of America is now obese with an underlying cause of added high fructose and corn syrup added to most of our processed foods we eat. If you want to play the freedom to eat whatever card, fine. But I shall scream to my grave that sanctions should be put on people that do not exercise and consume large amounts of high caloric, high glycemic, high fat and sugar loaded food. I suspect that the Staples forum will conclude the same thing. Your recurring theme is that it is okay the fat get fatter, the poor get poorer and the dumb dumber. We are a stupid nation (3 out of 4 in a Newsweek poll don’t know what form of government we have) and therefore, the government does need to step in and give us guidance.

          • The new laws require that you buy health insurance. Did you miss the part about the $2000 fine? How about the law suits filed by 26+ states? Miss that too? I did not say that Obama was setting rates; the states do that. But Obama is setting coverage reaquirements, and that Dude makes you your brother’s keeper. The guy eating the sugar is not making you pay for his stupidity, the federal and state governments are. The government is forcing you to subsidize the behavior you dislike. By writing coverage requirements that limit discrimination against those who practice poor nutritional habits the government is rewarding their behavior. If the choice comes down to relinquishing yet more personal freedom to a government run by morons and looking to those same morons for “guidance” or watching some clod eat himself to death; I’ll take the latter choice. As PJ pointed out in his latest book; the survival of the fittest thing doesn’t work so well if we keep the unfit hanging around. The problem is government interference; we do not need more of it.

          • The Dude Abides

            You make a point. Hard to figure out WHERE you are responding. Did not know you were a PJ fan as I am. Since I have VA health care and lucky to be near a good one in West Haven, I am not disturbed about Obamacare. Selfish perhaps but if we are talking survival. And even the Tea Partiers like VA care. I still maintain that sugar is evil but if you want to hand it out at Halloween to the crowd at the beach each year, be my guest. I am in training . . . I don’t want to think about a Snickers bar.

          • I am not disturbed by Obamacare either; I have two passports and an exemption along with about 10,000 other organizations and individuals. By 2014 the only people covered by Obamacare will be those who live in boxes under the bridge. The rest will either get their medical care overseas or will have joined private healthcare delivery plans which will cost far more than they do now. The middle class will be screwed once again.

          • Two passports? Who are you Jason Bourne? Don’t knock the
            carboard cartons, people are reserving them now down next to the 95 underpass. As soon as the Chinese take over, it may be the last refuge. You agree with the statement last night by Brooks: “We don’t have spending problem but a revenue problem??” Found it enlightening coming from the Right.

      • We have a spending problem. Government spending is growing faster tha GDP. Not a sustainable situation. One of my partners has three passports and has applied for a fourth.

    • “Any parent that has ever witnessed the aftermath of a child’s birthday party has probably blamed sugar for the mayhem that followed the cake and ice cream. But the fact is that sugar may actually be an innocent victim of guilt by association.

      Experts say the notion that sugar causes children to become hyperactive is by far the most popular example of how people believe food can affect behavior, especially among young children.

      However, despite years of debate and research on the relationship between food and behavior, no major studies have been able to provide any clear scientific evidence to back up those claims.

      “The biggest myth of all is that food has any connection to behavior,” says Steven Pliszka, MD, professor of psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “

      • The Dude Abides

        Yeah well it may differ with individuals but talk to Eric Clapton who called sugar his first addiction.

        • The predisposition to “addictions” may have a biological basis, but there is no evidence that eating sugar is addictive.

          • The Dude Abides

            You wanna bet. Got to an AA meeting.

          • If eating sugar or drinking alcohol produced in everyone an equal probability of becoming addicted you might be right. The fact that we all do not have an equal probability of being addicted at least suggested a biological predisposition for addiction.

          • The Dude Abides

            The factor of predisposition may be important but if you dose your kid in sugar from day one, the changes of them going to booze is much greater than if they never tasted anything sweet. Why do you think the food manufacturers added sugar to their products in the 80’s when they had a surplus of grain in this country. It was to get people addicted and to eat more. And we did! Obesity levels in America start increasing in the 80’s. Hardly a coincidence.

          • I don’t think so. People eat sugar because they like it. No one shoves it down their throats. The same is true with alcohol and cigarettes. Consumption reflects a choice. If people are too stupid to understand the consequences of eating sugar, they don’t belong in the gene pool. The price of sugar in the US is higher than outside of the US. So why would you expect more sugar in products made in the US?

          • The Dude Abides

            The manufacturers have replaced real sugar with high fructose and the like. Artificial sweetners that are just as addictive but cheaper to add to foods. Sure it tastes good. It tastes so good that you want more and more. High glycemic foods increase your blood sugar for a short span of time until it falls and you need another boost.

          • The ingredients are on the label. No one is forced to eat anything they do not want to eat. Of course if the food Nazis have their way, that situation will change.

      • The Dude Abides

        Despite the fact that Pliszka is a Longhorn (but not really cuz he is at San Antonio), he is wrong. Carbs tend to relax most people while protein affects brain function. I sat across from a lovely toddler for two hours on a plane ride. When we circled La Guardia, her mother gave her some candy. The kid was jumping up and down from thereinafter.

        • Anecdotal. You have no idea how the child would have behaved if no candy had been consumed. The process is too complex to be reduced to candy=hyperactivity.

          • The Dude Abides

            She behaved wonderfully for three hours until given a bag of M&M’s. Hardly anecdotal.

          • The Dude Abides

            She behaved quietly for three hours on the flight until a bag of M&M’s was given. Hardly anecdotal.

          • Still anecdotal. You have no idea how she would have behaved three hours into the flight if she had not be given the candy. Next time bring at least two toddlers; one loaded with candy and one with out.

      • Sometimes you must pay the price for your actions; the devil did not make you do it. The 400 pound gorilla in the room is alcohol, but no one wants to touch that third rail. It is much more in keeping with conventional wisdom to excoriate those who eat sugar or “junk food.” Is there any food that is more junk than alcohol? Hypocrisy makes the world go round.

  5. James Shoemaker, M.D.

    Studies from the Pritikin Institute indicate that poor eating habits as a child lead to health issues even before they reach adulthood. A study, back in 1972, took cadavers of American soldiers, average age 19, and found that they had 50% blockage on average in their arteries. The lesson to be learned is that it is never too early to begin eating correctly. I think our First Lady should be commended in her efforts to make America aware of this fact.
    Gerry Shoemaker
    Richmond, Texas

    • Obama didn’t mind taking money from TreeHosue Foods while she was on its board, and evidently had little objection to its product line. Her only interest in this matter is political.