School districts and cities teaming up to beat childhood obesity
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents since 1980. More than 30 percent of youth are now considered overweight or obese. Despite a tendency to lump these together, they are technically different. By definition, being overweight means having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of them all, while obesity means only having excess body fat.
Obese youngsters are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They are at a greater risk for joint problems, sleep apnea, and social stigmatization as well. People who grow up obese are more likely to be obese adults as well, which leads to lifelong health problems and a shorter life expectancy.
Because of the long-term effects childhood obesity can have on its victims (the issue is a main focus of First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! program), many cities and school districts are galvanizing to conquer this problem that is literally growing before our eyes.
Schools are in a particularly advantageous situation because they can establish a supportive environment with healthy food options and also provide opportunities for impressionable kids to learn about healthy eating, physical activity and other good lifestyle choices.
The United States Conference of Mayors has partnered with the American Beverage Association to create the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program. This program uses grants to support mayors’ efforts to reduce childhood obesity in their cities. The 2014 winners are Dallas; Denver; Little Rock, Arkansas; Monrovia, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and York, Pennsylvania.
“Combating childhood obesity has become a top priority for mayors in their cities,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “The best available science demonstrates that children with health problems related to overweight and obesity unfortunately not only fall far behind in school, but also can’t compete in the workforce. And that’s why we’re so proud of our partnership with the American Beverage Association, to support the pioneering strategies that mayors and cities are coming up with to eradicate childhood obesity.”
School systems around the country are joining the fight in various ways as well. Some central Florida school systems have gardens for the students to use, where they learn about produce. Some of the schools allow the children to take the vegetables home, where their exposure to fresh produce may be minimal. In Camden, New Jersey, bake sales and other food-related fund raising events have been banned. And at a time when many school systems are eliminating recess and physical education (PE) classes, Russell Elementary School in the Boston Public School System received kudos for making its PE program more rigorous and physically demanding.
Many districts throughout the country have taken additional preventive steps, such as serving low-fat milk, whole-wheat bread, and more fruits and veggies.