A story in the Sunday New York Times highlighted the efforts Philadelphia’s public schools are taking to combat childhood obesity— and the challenges they face in doing so. I took a look at the issue last year for ASBJ, traveling down to Huntington, West Virginia, which had once been billed as the fattest city in America, a dubious distinction that earned them a visit and a makeover from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who goes into greater detail about this project here:
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
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Articles tagged with Childhood obesity
As the lion and lamb weather of March rolls in, the American Dietetic Association kick-offs National Nutrition Month.
This annual campaign is designed to educate citizens about the importance of exercise and making healthy day-to-day food choices.
Changing habits as an adult is possible, but extremely difficultespecially if it means reinventing your entire lifestyle. That’s why it’s especially important to education children and teens about nutritionhelping them to understand that a healthy lifestyle should be a top priority.
Statistics about national childhood obesity are nothing short of disturbing. One third of America’s children are overweight or obese, according to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.
On average, children spend nearly half of their waking hours in school, so it is imperative the nutritional school lunches are provided. A recent study in Michigan found that children who ate the school lunch regularly were at a higher risk for obesity, The New York Times reports.
In addition to asserting that it “controls weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bone, muscle and joint development, and decreases the risk of obesity,” Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to fight childhood obesity can add “improves math skills” to the list of reasons to exercise.
Catherine Davis, a clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta, led a study in which researchers analyzed MRI brain scans of 7 to 11- year-old overweight participants after they were randomly assigned to complete 0, 20 or 40 minutes of non-competitive physical activity daily after school, HealthDay News reports.
Results of the study, which was published in the January edition of Health Psychology, showed that the amount of daily exercise positively correlated with increased activity in parts of the brain associated with executive functions, such as complex thinking and reasoning.
The results confirm what school officials should have already known and implemented the need for a school-wide emphasis on exercise. Physical activity serves an important role “in helping kids stay physically well and mentally sharp,” Davis told e! Science News.
One high school near Chicago has used exercise outside gym class “jump start [students’] brains,” as one physical education teacher put it, for more than five years.
Naperville Central High School Students begin the day by attending gym class and continue to use yoga balls and treadmills throughout the day. As of last year, math scores had increased by 21 percent since the program was implemented and on average, students were reading more than one year beyond their grade level, ABC news reports.
Why don’t I shop at Wal-Mart? Oh, let me count the ways—the giant corporate retailer’s destruction of small-town businesses that can’t compete, it’s tendency to build mass supercenters on the fringes of town, its bullying of manufacturers to lower the prices and thus quality of their products, the claims of discrimination, the claims of denying health insurance, the reopening of a store on Black Friday just hours after an employee had been trampled to death a couple years ago. I guess I could just say, their relentless pursuit of profit at any cost to society.
So I’m quite skeptical of their new campaign that says they’re going green, and giving health insurance and valuable career pathways to employees.
And I was quite surprised to hear last week that First Lady Michelle Obama was endorsing Wal-Mart’s new plan to require its suppliers to create healthier foods, with less sodium, fat, and sugar on its house-brand products, and lower the prices of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthier foods. And it’s building stores in places where poor residents do not have access to grocery stores or fresh foods.
Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest grocery retailer, and analysts say this position will have a major ripple through the food manufacturing community. According to USA Today, Mrs. Obama said the plan has “the potential to transform the marketplace and help Americans put healthier foods on their tables every single day.”
“We are really gaining some momentum on this issue, we’re beginning to see things move,” she said at an event in impoverished Southeast Washington, D.C., where Wal-Mart plans to open news stores.
While I’m sure Wal-Mart’s ultimate goal is to make a profit from this, it could bring some positive changes that could eventually help schools as they comply with the new Child Nutrition Act requirements (for more on the recently released regulations, read this School Board News Today story) In other words if you’ve got the power to be a bully, at least use it to do some good.
Now, about the environment…
Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor
It’s always quite hard to find someone who isn’t on a prescriptive diet, watching their weight, or at least trying to make healthy food choices. While much has been made of the fact that the nation as a whole is fatter than it’s ever been, the good news is that we know a lot more about the effect of certain foods on our bodies and can use that information to make healthier choices and (hopefully) lifelong habits for ourselves and our children.
The August issue of ASBJ focuses on childhood obesity and new research that shows the eating and exercise habits we learn in childhood influence the rest of our lives. The current generation of students is not only the heaviest, it’s the first whose life expectancy is expected to be shorter than their parents.
What’s the role of the school board? While some board members don’t feel it’s their job to police school cafeteria lines and meddle with what parents are feeding their children, there’s a role in teaching students healthy eating and exercise habitspart of the whole child movement–and it starts with healthier fare in the cafeteria. (Keep in mind, too, that these days more children are living in poverty and are relying on school meals as their main food source).
Today the House Committee on Education & Labor will markup— consider and possibly revise— the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, which is the House’s revamped version of the Child Nutrition Act.
If you’ve been following, the Senate agriculture committee proposed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in March, which was their stab at reauthorizing the bill that pays for school meals, income based nutrition programs and is the avenue the USDA uses to impose regulations and standards.
These efforts are part of a flurry of legislation and initiatives launched in recent months, aimed at tackling childhood obesity, a worthy cause few argue against though many hold different opinions on the appropriate strategy.
Campaigns to end hunger and childhood obesity, for example, have traditionally been viewed as separate issues. When a child is hungry, providing food is critical while providing healthy food is desirable.
Rachael Ray is famous for her perky personality and 30-minute meals on Food Network. But the issue of childhood hunger brought her to Capitol Hill today, and the affable TV talk-show host was optimistic but serious as she stood outside the Capitol to promote a new bill that requires schools to serve healthier foods.
Leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee invited Ray to D.C., where she spoke at a press conference to introduce the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” a bill to reauthorize the 1965 Child Nutrition Act. That law does not include the school lunch program but controls almost all other foods students eat at school and after-school programs.
“I really think that teaching a child good nutrition and the basics of cooking gives them the skills they need for self esteem and security for the rest of their lives,” Ray said. “Just being able to eat a nutritious meal really improves the quality of your life.”
Ray went on to say that good nutrition does more than keeping students focused in class, instilling healthy habits at an early age helps cut health-care costs and helps them learn to choose healthier options, particularly if they are short on money.
When considering the “dangers” of school lunch, parents’ concerns probably don’t go much further than worrying about their child trading his carrot sticks for that peanut butter sandwich that’s an allergy attack waiting to happen. But a group of retired military leaders who call themselves Mission: Readiness say that school lunches are causing a threat to national security. A report by the Associated Press quotes one of the former officers as saying unhealthy school lunches are making kids “too fat to fight.”
The group released a study that said 27 percent of Americans between the age of 17 and 24 are too overweight to join the military. A startling statistic, to be sure, but how much of this is really based on school lunches?
A cowbell — that’s what my mother used to call us to dinner after an afternoon (and, sometimes, early evening) of play. Bent, rusted, big, and loud, it rang from the back stoop, beckoning my brothers and me from the backyard or from an even more wild and wonderful place behind our house: a place we called, simply, “The Lot.”
The Lot was a weedy ..well, a weedy mess, really. It was the drain field for the subdivision behind us. And I’m sure it was filled with ticks and chiggers and poison ivy and snakes. And, of course, we loved it. We played baseball there in the summer, and when it rained a great deal, as it tended to do sometimes in St. Louis, The Lot would fill up with water and become a lake. (Probably a dirty, germ-laden, storm sewer of a lake, but a “lake,” nonetheless.)
I thought about “The Lot” today as I read a news release from the Alliance for Children on the importance of free play — both at home and at school — and its central role in fighting a childhood obesity epidemic that has become a cause célèbre for Michelle Obama and many advocacy groups, including NSBA.
“We’re delighted that Michelle Obama has taken up this issue as her major focus as First Lady,” said Joan Almon, the Alliance’s executive director. “Efforts to reverse the obesity epidemic have until now focused almost entirely on nutrition and physical activity with disappointing results. The missing ingredient in this recipe is play — good, old-fashioned, child-initiated play, the kind that used to keep children moving and active for hours each day.”
When it comes to discipline, few in the educational realm harbor nostalgia for the way teachers punished their students in days gone by. But Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a proponent of healthier standards in our nation’s schools, remembers one reprimand quite fondly.
“If a teacher caught you with candy, you got a ruler on the knuckles,” he said at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
With concern about childhood obesity levels and how a lack of physical activity affects student academic growth, reforming nutrition and exercise in school will shape the health practices of the next generation.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle called the National School Lunch Program, which feeds 60 million children across the country, a major threat to public health. Instead of providing students with the healthiest options, the program requires schools to serve the most available food commodities, meaning they will eat more milk and meat than fruits and vegetables.
Nationally subsidized food programs are especially important to students who may find their healthiest or most nutritious meal in the cafeteria and not on the dinner table. When money is tight, however, schools are thankful they can provide any meals to their students.
In California, the school lunch program that offers free and reduced lunch to students from low-income households could run out of money without $19.5 million in additional funds. During the 2007-08 school year, California served 770.6 million meals to students. A shortfall of that magnitude would leave far too many plates empty.
As budget woes threaten the security of school food services and officials consider reform, this may be a good time to remember our parents’ scolding and stay out of the cookie jar.
For an in-depth look at the challenges of operating a school food service program, reach back into our archives and read this.
Christian Kloc, Spring Intern
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