Weighing in On Childhood Obesity In School


iStock 000012205934XSmall 150x150 Weighing in On Childhood Obesity In SchoolThe figures are in.  According to the obesity statistics of the Center for Disease Control and prevention: 18% of adolescents age 12-19; 20% of children age 6-11; and 10% of children age 2-5 years are obese! This accounts for about 12.5million children between the ages of 2 and 19 years. With obesity being defined as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex, obesity in children is clearly a concern for parents as well as schools. This makes the development of programs for prevention of childhood obesity in school a formidable goal.

First it is important to understand why obesity in children is such a problem.  Obesity statistics show that childhood obesity affects the overall health of our children in a number of ways. Obese children have a propensity for: high blood pressure and high cholesterol which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease; increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes; breathing difficulties such as asthma and sleep apnea; joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort; and the possibility of developing fatty liver disease, gallstones and severe heartburn. In addition, obese children have a greater chance of growing into obese adults with its increased risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers.

Let’s face it, though we all know that exercise is an important factor in prevention of obesity, most of our activities in school are sedentary. The children come to the classroom and in order to maintain discipline and an optimal learning environment,our students are required to sit at desks or tables for a large part of their school day.  This is often followed by a ride home in a bus or car where very likely they will spend more hours in front of a television or computer, basically inactive.  Add to this the enormous problem of readily available junk food snacks and high calories fast food meals, both in school and out, and it is a wonder that the obesity statistics are not higher.

So what can our schools do to combat this growing trend? Childhood obesity in school began to be addressed when the federal government mandated that local educational programs which participate in school meal programs have a school wellness policy in place by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year.  This provided an impetus for many schools to examine how to go about working on the prevention of obesity in children. This program requires that schools develop a wellness policy with goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other wellness activities; set nutritional guidelines for all food and beverages served outside of school meals (i.e. in school vending machine purchases and school parties/extra-curricular activities); and encourage parent and community involvement in the development and implementation of the program. The new proposed guidelines for changes in school lunch menus will hopefully be an additional boost to reducing the obesity statistics in our students.

Fortunately, there are many schools which have risen to the challenge and have been working aggressively towards prevention of obesity in children.  This past spring 275 schools from 37 different states were honored at the Healthy Schools Forum.  More than half the schools earning recognition serve predominantly African-American or Hispanic students with more than 60 percent located in lower-income communities. The schools ranging in location from Miami, Fl; to Los Angeles, CA have established healthy eating and physical activity programs and policies which meet or exceed standards set by The Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This alliance is a non-profit organization established to help reduce the incidence of childhood obesity by 2015 by empowering children nationwide to make healthy lifestyle choices. In June of this year, the Alliance received a$23million grant to help expand its programs. With the grant the Alliance hopes to assist 30,000, or more than a quarter of all elementary and secondary schools, to develop and implement programs to stem the tide of childhood obesity in school.  The availability of this grant money is particularly important as most school funding is targeted for other equally important issues.

Even without the added dollars, schools can make changes in their programs to help promote prevention of obesity in children. In Northwest Elementary School in Amityville, NY, the children start their day with five to ten minutes of exercise in the gym. Students and teachers come together to jump start their day. This early morning activity helps to reduce stress and allows for brain stimulation by increasing blood circulation. Administrators can also see to it that the traditional recess time is used to promote physical activity. Traditionally, time was taken away from recess for behavioral difficulties. In an effort to change the childhood obesity in school statistics, extra recess could be earned and used as a positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior. Establishing inner grade sports leagues during recess, before or after school could be another relatively inexpensive way to aid in the prevention of obesity in children.

We as educators and administrators can play an important role in reversing the obesity statistics and prevention of obesity in children. By modeling making appropriate choices in the areas of exercise and food choices we can begin to address the issue of childhood obesity in school.

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6 Responses to Weighing in On Childhood Obesity In School

  1. Laura says:

    if schools are going to take on the childhood obesity problem the first thing they need to do is get rid of all the premade, carb filled, proceced crap they feed our kids on daily basis and return to on site fresh prepared meats..breads..fr…uits and veggies. Secondly they have to bring back daily physical education insytead of children going to PE twice a week. ALso they have to bring back the twice daily recess that many have taken away from our kids. Take a lesson with Jamie Oliver.

  2. Diane says:

    I applaude all teachers and educational administrators for their efforts in fighting childhood obesity. I work with 150 schools,and the statistics are true.Children need positive role models.Teachers and Parents who say..Do as I am doing. Diet,nutrition,and exercise. It is hard to get motivated if your teacher is overweight,and your parents. Could lead to thinking that fat is norm. I help schools with a fitness fundraiser/weight loss challenge that gets everyone involved in the process of lifestyle changes. The war on weight continues to be fought.

    • Miriam says:

      Wishing you the best of luck with the Fit and Trim program. It sounds like a worthwhile project. Feel free to share a link to your site.

  3. dpierce says:

    Dianne is right. The parents and teachers must lead by example.
    There is simply big money in selling processed carbohydrates. Corn syrup and granulated sugar are cheap ingredients which as commodities benefit by third world labor and fossil fuel and fertilizer support ias well as Government agricultural subsidies. Until all this is modified, we will see kids eating Cheetos and candy even if we put apples and carrots on every tray. There is big money in making America fat, and I say it amounts to a corruption if not a form of terrorism or even treason.
    Follow Dianne and throw the Halloween candy, Valentine candy and Christmas sweets and stop gorging on sodas and breads and desserts on Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and whatever day in between. Give up the sugar filled lattes and frappes and the Slurpees….hard to do in the face of pressure of advertising and your friends. Take up a sport that asks for calories – hiking, running, swimming – Masters programs are all over and most who join are able to be less obese more healthy and happier – and they don’t snarf down juices or candy except when they burn the calories first.
    Fat parents usually have fat kids. Trim parents usually have trim kids and it comes from understanding food – especially the food offered to us by the commodity industry gremlins of corn syrup and sugar.

  4. Steve Bonesz says:

    Good article! Obesity is becoming a very large problem in our country today. Parents and teacher leading by example is key, however many parents and teachers are also in the weight challenged category. Proper diet and exercise are the obvious answers to the problem, but these lifesyle changes are not easily adhered to, and I think one of the main reasons is America’s relience on inexpensive highly processed foods. There are so many reasons these food choices are popular; they are abundant (American farmers produce massive amounts of corn and wheat each year), processing makes these products easy to pack and extends their shelf life, they feed a ytremendous number of livestock for a cheap and tender meat supply and they are more palatable to children than their healthier countrerparts. What child wouldn’t choose a hamburger and fries over a salmon filet and string beans?
    I personally think the answer to this issue has to start with our government. Corn is grown at a loss in this country. It is only profitable to American farmer because our government subsidises it’s production. Let’s start subidising corn less and other fruits and vegtables more. Let’s start subsidising sustainable, locally grown, non-processed, healthy foods and stop subsiding less healthy foods and I think we will heading in the right direction.

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