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Elementary schools always fear certain diseases and infections that can make their students ill and prevent them from attending school. Some of these consist of the flu, pinkeye, pneumonia, and chicken pox. Although these are serious medical diseases, there is one epidemic that is spreading at a rate far faster than any of these. One in five children in the United States are said to be diagnosed with this health risk and the number is growing more and more each day (Torgan 1). Looking at the seriousness of this epidemic, it should be a high priority to find a cure for it, but the truth is most schools may be contributing to its prevalence. This medical disease that is spreading among our nation’s youth is childhood obesity. If something isn’t done soon, the future health of our nation may be in jeopardy. Jeffrey P Koplan, the director of the Center for Disease Control, said, “Overweight and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S., second only to tobacco-related deaths. Obesity is an epidemic and should be taken as seriously as any infectious disease epidemic (Hensley 1).” This recent spread of obesity is very severe; action must be taken by schools, and most importantly the school boards, to prevent it from becoming such a detrimental force to our country. Childhood obesity is a serious medical problem that affects many children, and in turn raises issues of how schools should be run. It is important for you as a school board to understand the seriousness of obesity, what causes it, and what you can do to reduce it’s prevalence in order to make your school a healthier place for students to learn.


What is childhood obesity? This term can be defined as the storage of excess fat in the body of adolescents. Although this definition is useful in describing childhood obesity in general terms, it is still quite vague. Using this term, a child who is overweight by simply a few pounds could be considered obese. If this were the case, most of the world’s adolescent population would be overweight. It is clear that everybody can store extra fat in their bodies so this definition must be made clear. Some characterize childhood obesity as the inability of a child to lose weight and keep it off. This specifies obesity consists of a larger problem than being overweight by a few pounds. Although this definition is a little more specific, there is an easy way to specify directly what is meant by the term “childhood obesity.”


The most precise way to define childhood obesity is by using the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is described as a measurement of the relative percentages of fat and muscle mass in the human body, in which weight in pounds is divided by height in feet and the result used as an index of obesity. This is useful in calculating the amount of fat that a person has, which is a good way to identify obesity. For children, there are two levels of being over weight, the 85 percentile which means that a child is at risk, and the 95 percentile which suggests that a child is obese. The 85 percentile is consistent with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, and the 95 percentile deals with a person who has a BMI of 30 and above (“Childhood Prevalence” 1). The recommended BMI for an acceptable weight is between 18.5 and 24.9 (“Calculate Your BMI” 1). So in turn, the best way to define obesity in a child is that they have a Body Mass Index above 30. It shows that there is a certain amount of fat that a child has that indicates signs of obesity. This definition is good but we can also define the epidemic, childhood obesity, by what symptoms it causes and by what other things can be acquired by being obese.


Obesity can put people at risk for many other serious medical problems. These medical conditions are a way to define the brutality of this epidemic. Obesity is often underestimated by many doctors and schools. It can lead to very serious medical problems such as asthma, diabetes, gallstones, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. It also contributes to liver disease, infertility, weakened respiratory function, and many types of cancer (“Childhood Effects” 2). That is only a short list of the many health problems that can arise from obesity. This defines just how serious of a disease that childhood obesity really is. People overlook all of these severe medical effects and tend to underestimate the significance and severity of this disease.


Now that a clear definition has been given about how childhood obesity is identified and how it can affect the body, the causes of obesity must be acknowledged in order to understand what schools can do to help prevent it from spreading. By examining what can cause childhood obesity, there will be a better understanding of how the epidemic can be reduced. When the warning signs to obesity are identified, it will be simpler to target programs that will fight these causes. There appears to be two main reasons that childhood obesity arises.


The two largest contributors to childhood obesity are bad eating habits and a higher lack of physical activity (Scott 2). In current times, children aren’t getting their recommended daily intake of nutritional foods. Children are consuming a lot higher calorie foods and soft drinks which come from fast food restaurants and TV dinners. Also, children are being served larger portions of food now more than ever (Kendall 2). Meals in restaurants, meals at home, and even meals in school are being served much larger than in the past, and it is beginning to cause a higher weight gain in children. The other crucial contributor to childhood obesity is the lack of exercise. This lack of physical activity in children is due to a higher time spent watching television and playing video games. Television also shows many advertisements for fast food and other unhealthy foods which spark children’s interest and persuade them to eat the advertised meals (“TV” 2). Studies now show that every hour a child spends in front of the television doubles their risk of becoming obese (“Video Games” 1). Since children spend a lot more time on these sedentary activities, they are refusing to go outside and play sports or just play, and this reduction in exercise is highly contributing to the increase of obesity. These two topics must be focused on when trying to come up with cures for the obesity epidemic.


Genetics are also a cause of obesity that is often overlooked. This view reveals that there is a hereditary cause of childhood obesity rather than only environmental contributors. Even though it is strange to think that parents can pass down this trait to their children, there are studies that prove that obesity can be hereditary. One study revealed children are 15 times more likely to become obese by age six if their mother is overweight (“Mom” 1). This is a large problem seeing as genetics are a very hard thing to cure. Although heredity is a factor in obesity, it is not the main one. Having an overweight mother only puts the child at risk of becoming obese. Environment is really the true cause of obesity (“Mom” 2). If a child is subjected to a lifestyle full of unhealthy dietary habits, than that is the main cause.


Surprisingly, schools have been contributing to the factors that affect obesity for years. First off walking through the lunch line in many schools today, it is not surprising to see other negative alternatives popping up in the lunch lines. These consist of potato chips, cookies, candy, and many other unhealthy foods. Schools have even bought deep fryers to cook up their own greasy French fries and other unhealthy foods. Although the primary reason for these alternatives is that children can have a treat with their lunch, most children often substitute the healthy lunch that is being served for these high-calorie, low nutrition alternatives. Since children eat this unhealthy food almost everyday, it is very hard for them to get the proper amount of nutrition in their diet. Secondly, schools are offering the use of vending machines during school hours. Now children are able to buy soft drinks that are full of sugar any time they want (Faulk 13). Although the use of vending machines is a source of profit for schools, the student’s well being should be the highest priority. If children are constantly exposed to foods and drinks that contain such high calorie and sugar content than that is all that they are going to eat and drink.


Now that the nutritional deficiencies of schools have been addressed, the reduction of physical education in schools is the last contributing factor. Recently schools have started to focus more on the educational well being of its children, but schools need to also look at their physical well being. Schools are becoming more lenient with the enforcement of children taking physical education classes. Also, gym classes are being cut back to fewer days a week. Schools are required to get students prepared in subjects such as math, English, and social studies, but are not required to give as much attention to physical education (“No Sweat” 1). Children are now getting less exercise than they used to and in turn not keeping physically fit. Schools must emphasize the need for dietary health and physical activity or else children will never learn of its importance.


Although many schools have contributed to the childhood obesity epidemic, some are actually initiating programs to make children healthier and happier. These programs make great strides in the education and implication of dietary health and physical activities. There are many programs that schools can become a part of that will help in the fight against childhood obesity. These courses promote physical health and teach children about how to make healthy choices throughout their lives. They must also focus on one of the two main factors that contribute to obesity which are bad nutritional habits and lack of physical activity. All of these health oriented programs should be considered if schools would like to make their institution a healthy place for children to live and learn.


One of the best ideas to make school lunches healthier is to serve all organic lunches. At first, it seems like an extreme idea, but it is also a useful one. Hopkins school district in Minnesota traded in their high calorie meals for a more organic approach. This school serves such entrees as pizza baked with a wheat crust, whole wheat sandwiches, and a broad salad bar (Boyd 1). Putting an emphasis on healthy food choices has made students aware that dietary needs are important. This shows through their sales of school lunches which went up from 700 lunches a day in the 2003 school year to 1200 lunches a day in the 2004 school year. There was also a ten percent drop in the sales of the unhealthy alternative food choices (Boyd 3). Another good feature of these organic meals is that 75 percent of them are prepared from scratch (Boyd 1). That means that the ingredients aren’t processed or loaded with salt to preserve them. This lunch uses fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned or frozen ones. Finally, organic meals follow the same guidelines as regular school lunches in that they are the same price or cheaper and students can still get free or reduced lunches with this type of meal (Boyd 3). Children also have the choice to buy this food and take it home in the evening, that way they can have healthy meals all day long (Boyd 4). All in all, the choice to switch to an all organic lunch would benefit every one. It is healthier for the children, it does not come at a higher cost to the school, and it makes parents happy that their kids are receiving healthier choices in school.


Another solution to the problem of dietary health appears to be extremely simple to implicate. This idea is to remove all of the unhealthy choices that the cafeteria and vending machines offer. It’s understandable that schools want children to make their own choices, but why not make these choices all healthy ones? By taking out all of the unhealthy snack foods in the lunch lines, children will have no choice but to select from only healthy options. Also, vending machines seem to be a common item in schools today. It is an easy way for schools to make money, and it is also a way for students to get a refreshing drink or snack during the day. When they go to the vending machines, all they can get is soda and candy. There are no other choices other than unhealthy ones. Some schools are replacing the sugar enriched soda with fruit juices and water and the candy with healthier fruit snacks. Children will make the choice to buy healthier foods if it is their only option. By cutting down on the amount of soda and candy that a child can consume while they are in school, it will drastically improve their health. There are also laws being formulated by the American Beverage Association which places restrictions on the type of drinks that can be sold in a school system’s vending machines and limits the amount of soda that can be placed in these machines (Dezio 1). Schools must realize that children need to be guided toward the proper health choices and by removing all of the unhealthy foods from their environment; students will be able to make healthy choices in school and at home.


A new concept that is making its way throughout schools is a program made by the Healthy Kids Challenge (“CIGNA” 1). Schools can take up this program as a way to combat childhood obesity. The Healthy Kids Challenge is an organization that meets with elementary schools around the country and discusses the goals that a school has for its dietary and physical requirements. This organization then works with the school to formulate and implement the goals. Healthy Kids Challenge also works with the children in an attempt to change their views and feelings about healthy food choices and physical activity (“CIGNA” 1). This organization can offer schools many resources and materials to help combat obesity. The Healthy Kids Challenge program is an easy way for schools to teach their children about why health is so important and give them a solid foundation to build on making healthy choices throughout their lives.


Another program helping children learn about physical activity and its importance to their health is SPARK, or Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (“SPARK” 1). The goal of this organization is to increase not only the quantity but also the quality of physical activity children receive each day. It is also beneficial in teaching children about the importance of physical activity in and out of school and to promote a healthy lifestyle. This is important to growing children because if they build up these healthy habits at a younger age, they will be more likely to follow them for the rest of their lives. By offering this program in schools, students will get the most out of their time in gym class and learn just how to keep themselves physically fit. Exercise is a key part in the reduction of obesity and by giving children the opportunity of learning games that they can play at home and in school, this will further their development into thinner, healthier people. SPARK has also been cited by the Surgeon General as being a “school based solution” to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity (“SPARK” 1).


All of these programs provide alternative healthy choices to what is being offered in school systems now. They are not only beneficial to the health of the children, but they also come at a minimal cost to schools. The greatest part about all of the alternative health choices that can be applied to school systems is that they work. Through the implementations of these certain curriculums, many schools have seen an increase in energy of their students and a loss of weight. This is why you as a school board must take them under consideration. If you want the proper health and well being of the children in the school system, you must deliberate which of these will work in your school, and how they can be tailored to your specific district.


When considering which of these programs will work in your school, the parents’ role in the health of their children must also be incorporated. Therefore, I feel that a program should be set up in the school system that brings in the parents. This curriculum will consist of lessons for children in school, and also seminars with parents and children outside of school. There will be an emphasis on the importance of a child’s health to the parents. These programs will also show children the significance of their health and how it affects their lives. It will also give parents information about healthy eating tips that can be applied at home and ways to get their children involved with the planning of meals. By involving the parents, the lessons will not only be carried into the home but parent child relationships will also be strengthened. Parents will also be given information about activities in their area that can provide their children with exercise outside of school. Children learn through repetition. If children learn about the basics of keeping themselves healthy and fit, and then these skills are reinforced in the home, the children will keep these healthy habits throughout their lives. It is important that schools and parents ban together so that healthy choices are practiced throughout the day. To accurately combat childhood obesity, the healthy values formed by these programs need to be applied to life in and out of school.


Even though the numbers are staggering for the rate of growth of childhood obesity, there are still many things that you as a school board can do to stop it. By initiating more health conscious programs in the school system, schools will see that their children will not only lose weight, but they will also gain a lot more energy and become more focused in school. Imagine children in school running and playing without getting winded and being able to make healthy choices at lunchtime. This is the main goal of the school system, to foster the growth of children academically, physically, and mentally. When schools stress the importance of physical well being to children at a young age, they will then learn that a good diet and healthy exercise is essential to a enriched, healthy life. This will keep students fit and healthy into adulthood. Childhood obesity is a difficult epidemic to combat, but if schools give children a healthy learning environment, than there will be an enormous reduction in the prevalence of this disease.


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