In 2016, data reported that the obesity rate for American children ages 2 to 19 was 18.5%. The adult obesity rate was much higher at 39.6% (Child Obesity Rates). The high obesity rate is caused by an imbalance in calories eaten and calories used. Obesity can have major negative effects on adults and children. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and high glucose levels are only a few examples (Lee). A valid way to reduce childhood obesity rates and prevent adult obesity rates from increasing, action should be taken in schools.
Ideas and knowledge gained about nutrition in childhood will last a lifetime and prevent children from becoming obese adults. Through public education, schools can provide students with an education about healthy, nutritious foods, encourage healthier lifestyles and exercise through physical education classes and inform the students and their parents through BMI reports.
Nutrition classes / School lunches: “Schools provide the most effective and efficient way to reach a large segment of the population: young people, school staff, families and community members” (Aldinger & Jones, 1998; Dixey et al, 1999).
School is a child’s life for 13 years. They spend a lot of their time there and are influenced by their peers and teachers while there. It’s important that schools are showing and teaching healthy habits because it is where they are spending so much time. All children are going to school, so nutrition education, physical education, and healthy lunches are reaching the majority of young children. “The school food environment has the potential to have a large impact on children’s and adolescents’ diets because they consume a substantial proportion (between 19 and 50 percent) of their total daily calories at school” (Gleason and Suitor 2001).
The importance of healthy, nutritious school lunches can’t be understated because of the number of calories that children are consuming at school. Many children consume breakfast and lunch through school, many through the free and reduced lunch program. It’s important that these meals are giving adequate calories and nutrients, especially if the children aren’t going to receive healthy food outside of school. “School-based nutrition education should focus not only on nutrition information, but also develop skills and behaviors related to areas such as food cultural aspects of food and eating; enhance self-esteem and positive body image and consumer aspects” (1). Nutrition is a subject that is often attached to other subjects and put at least importance with so many other subjects. Nutrition classes can provide valuable information for students that will help them into adulthood. It can also bring benefits of positive body image, teach valuable skills of cooking, and teach about the effects of obesity.
Physical education classes: The importance and results of physical education classes are often discussed because there is limited data and research, but this data suggests that physical education was beneficial for normal-weight children. While it didn’t have any effect on their current weight, it suggested that their chances of becoming an overweight adult was decreased. While five percent isn’t a significant amount, any percentage of reduced obesity rates are a good thing. “Longitudinal data have shown that for each weekday that normal weight adolescents participate in physical education, the odds of becoming an overweight adult decreased by 5 percent” (Menschik et al. 2008). “There is no federal law requiring physical education to be provided to students in the American education system or any incentives to offering physical education programs” (Naspe and AHA 2006). There are no current national set laws regarding physical education classes. The standards are up to the state, school districts , or even school. This is a major flaw. With a set standard for the amount of time spent in PE classes, it would be much easier to track the benefits of PE classes and adjust the programs and standards from there. While the amount of time spent in PE classes, varies, it is often found that students are only engaging in physical activity for fifty percent or less of their time spent in the class. It is important that PE classes are using the time set to have the students engage in moderate, vigorous, and weight training. “… students engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 50% of the time they spend in physical education class, one of the most critical outcome measures in determining the quality of a physical education program” (3).
BMI reports: In a experiment in tracking PE effectiveness, the students had to report their BMI. The problem was the students didn’t correctly report their height, weight, and BMI. The process of tracking and sending out BMI reports through the school would greatly benefit the student and their parents.“The average student overreported height by 2.7 inches and underreported weight by 3.5 pounds, resulting in an underreported BMI by 2.6 units” (6). “Measuring school-based body mass index (BMI) and reporting the results to parents has been recommended as a way to prevent obesity” (IOM 2005). When student’s BMI’s are recorded and sent to the parents, it helps the child and the parents discuss and realize if there is a risk for obesity or if the child is obese. When the topic of obesity it brought up, a discussion of solutions and lifestyle changes can be discussed. “BMI screening and reporting programs can help increase public and professional understanding of children’s weight issues and can be a useful vehicle for engaging with children and families about healthy lifestyles and weight problems” (Nihiser et al. 2007). The main purpose of BMI screening is to raise awareness of the children’s weight issues, whether it be underweight or overweight. Many parents do not realize their child has weight problems or is on the track to becoming obese. Talking about weight and healthy living is an important part of family discussions. It can spark a change in the current unhealthy lifestyle.
PE classes make no difference in obesity rates. The evidence on the benefits for overweight children is very limited. “However, despite the number of organizations calling for increased PE to reduce student overweight, there is little evidence that PE lowers weight or decreases the risk of overweight (Kahn et al., 2002; IOM, 2004) #4 PE classes are often not put to their full potential, with students not participating and most of the time spent on instruction meaning there is very little time spent on actual physical activity. There is some evidence concerning elementary-aged children and the effect of PE on overweight girls and a change in their BMI. There was no effect on normal weight boys or girls, or heavier boys. While BMI scores weren’t affected for all the children, any change in overweight students weight is a good thing. “The best available evidence is based on the change in weight associated with a change in PE for kindergarten and first grade students in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which finds that additional PE is associated with lower BMI among heavier girls, but no change in BMI for lighter girls or for heavier or lighter boys” (Datar and Sturm, 2004). Nutrition education should come from parents / families. Many people believe that schools shouldn’t be involved in the student’s weight or be teaching them about nutrition because it is the responsibility of the parents. “… the way parents talk about food, cook meals and eat are the most important influence of developing healthy meal habits on a child” (4). Parents and families do have a large influence on a child’s relationship with food. “One study showed that children who eat meals with their parents tend to eat more fruit, vegetables and dairy products than children who don’t share meals with their families” (4). Evidence shows that children that eat with their families do eat healthier than those who do not leading to lower BMI rates. The amount of time students spend at school, makes school the perfect place to learn nutrition. School lunches are also a good opportunity to provide students with healthy nutritious foods. “School meals provide a valuable opportunity for nutrition education. Food provided at schools should be nutritionally adequate and consistent with classroom messages” (Raizman et al, 1994; Aranceta, 2001). #1 Together parents can support the messages taught about nutrition by providing healthy meals and talking about food and BMI rates.“The provision of adequate information regarding school meals to families and facilitating occasions where parents can take part in the school should be encouraged” (Aranceta, 2001).