Schools preventing obesity

Dear Editor:

In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). School is a common location at which children spend an average of 6-7 hours a day at, which is a majority part of their hours while awake. Thus, school is one primary setting that could be ideal for preventing obesity. Without a strong contribution from schools, we are not likely to reverse the obesity epidemic. Although schools cannot completely solve the epidemic, without them being strongly involved it is unlikely for it to improve. With this opportunity, schools have a key role to create a difference in the future of these kids.

Since 1980 the percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled, while rates among adolescents have more than tripled (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015). Thus, obesity has been an issue and will continue to be one if there isn’t a change. However, multiple areas need change in order for this to occur. Not only providing good opportunities for nutrition, recess, and physical education, but teaching them the proper ways for them to do it independently, have the potential to be a majority of the change that is needed.

Children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity. If children have obesity, their weight and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). For these reasons, schools play an important role in promoting the health of children and adolescents by helping them to establish lifelong health patterns.

The years spent in school are some of the most critical years of their lives since they are exposed to social, psychological, physical, and intellectual development. There are many changes and different situations they are exposed to in the 13 years of school, which gives schools an opportunity to teach the healthiest ways to handle them. Without proper guidance to make it through these situations, depression, weight gain, and other negative coping mechanisms are a possibility. Schools can be essential in helping students adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors they can use during this time and continue to carry out after graduation.

Despite evidence that shows children benefit not only physically, but mentally, from daily recess, very few states mandate time for physical activity during the school day (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015). California, Hawaii, and Tennessee are the only states that require daily physical education for grades K-12 and recess for grades K-6. Seven states require only daily physical education for K-12, while seven different states require daily recess only for grades K-6. While these requirements are somewhat helpful, kids need more opportunities in every state that could allow for physical activity. “When children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, multiple health benefits accrue” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). If these requirements took place in all 50 states, students could participate in physical activity that would help them develop the knowledge, motor skills, behavioral skills, and confidence required to adopt and maintain healthy active lifestyles (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015).

Additionally, dietary patterns and eating behaviors developed during childhood have been shown to track into adolescence and adulthood (Cutler, Flood, Hannan, and Neumark-Sztainer, 2009). The existing research has discovered how early exposure to a food more likely allows for later selection in life of that same item. For example, exposure to carrots increases liking and consumption of carrots (Wardle et al., 2003). Schools have the means to provide this early exposure to varieties of foods even if their families are unable too.

Schools have direct contact with more than 95 percent of our nation’s young people for up to 13 crucial years. Learning institutions are a common denominator where all kids attend, no matter how many healthy choices they are exposed to at home. Thus, we have a huge opportunity to help this epidemic. By offering better lunches with more fruits and vegetable options, recess opportunities, and daily physical education in all states, the students have more ways of adopting healthy behaviors.

Sydney Kell