Schools need to help fight childhood obesity
Support healthier food options and better physical education-
Is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care / GI Care for Kids, whose books on nutrition for parents led him to start Nutrition4Kids with his co-founders.
A positive, nonjudgmental approach helps parents influence their kids nutritionally. Because the kids spend so much of their time at school, it's important for parents to emphasize to school administrations that they too have a significant role in preventing and treating the problem of obesity.
- In an effort to provide supplies or fund athletic programs, 88 percent of high schools, 61 percent of middle schools and 14 percent of elementary schools have signed lucrative contracts with beverage companies to place vending machines in lounges and hallways. They are raising money, but often at a real cost to the children who are now consuming additional, unneeded calories. My recommendations: allow access to vending machines only after school and provide alternative vending machines with fruits and other healthy snacks. (The USDA has found that 34 percent of the high schools and 15 percent of middle schools permit the students to use the vending machines at any time).
- Ask the schools to reevaluate what the nutritional content of foods served in the school lunch line. Many are actively doing that. Schools offering foods that are high in fat and calories are sending the wrong message to the children and their families. Such a policy endorses a diet that is counter to good health.
- Equally unhealthy are the constraints on physical fitness programs that are being trimmed to reduce costs and increase the focus on academic programs. I, and others, have a number of suggestions: provide year-round school programs, work with community agencies to provide after school programs on site and make sure school bus schedules accommodate those changes.
What the children learn will influence their future health and nutritional habits. What they don't learn about fitness, diet and health may increase their risk of obesity and its medical, social and emotional consequences.
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