Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Childhood Obesity: Who's job is it anyway?

There’s no denying it. Childhood obesity is a public health problem. So what role should public schools play in the solution?

Clearly, the elimination of junk food and sodas on campus is a great first step. Most schools across the nation seem to have jumped on this bandwagon. However, the selling of candy for school fundraisers remains a challenge. I spoke recently to a representative from the National Fundraising Association who assured me that candy is still a very popular item for school fundraisers. “After all, it’s sold after school," she noted.

Another important piece of the childhood obesity equation is physical education and recess. Yesterday’s blog cited the National Association of Sports and Physical Education study which found that 81% of parents and 92% of teens say that they should have daily physical education. Sounds like a majority to me. Daily PE seems like a logical solution that would be easy to implement without any additional costs. It requires scheduling changes and an education emphasis on educating the whole child. Additionally, recess is needed, necessary and supported by parents as well. These represent a cost effective solution that could be implemented across the nation tomorrow.

Some opponents to bills in the state legislatures requiring physical education say childhood obesity is not the schools' battle. Schools are for academics, they say, and lifestyle changes should be addressed at home.

However, cutting schools out of the child obesity equation, is short sighted and contraindicated, largely because most of student's life is spent at school. And because childhood obesity is a public health risk, it is something the government must address. There’s a saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Our nation and its children are seeing the results of neglecting the physical. Not only are kids overweight but they are also experiencing early onset disease symptoms previously reserved for the elderly. Type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and joint problems are just a few of the sobering outcomes today’s children are facing. Investing in children’s future should include keeping students' bodies healthy, as well as improving their minds.

So who’s job is it? Ours.