Let's Get Physical

The scene: young people milling around deciding what to have for lunch: pizza, French fries, soda. Is this a shopping mall food court or one of our nation's school cafeterias? Often, you can't tell the difference.

Add another issue to the endless list of topics that education administrators these days are charged with or have to think about: security, technology, budgets, and now — obesity.

Studies have shown that overweight and obese children are at higher risks for long-term health problems such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma and certain cancers. And healthy students can lead to better attendance, improved behavior, lower incidence of illness and increased attention. The facilities implications: furniture, cafeteria layouts, physical-education opportunities, to name a few.

Many education institutions are doing something about it. A 1998 UCLA survey of 900 students in 14 Los Angeles elementary schools found that 40 percent of students were obese. A 2000 report for the Los Angeles Unified School District found that more than 25 percent of children in Los Angeles County are uninsured and, thus, do not have access to preventive healthcare, creating an even greater need for healthy alternatives in schools.

So, effective January 2004, the district decided that the only beverages authorized for sale before, during and until one half-hour after the end of the school day at all sites accessible to students would be fruit-based drinks with at least 50 percent fruit juice and no added sweeteners; drinking water; milk; and electrolyte-replacement beverages and vitamin waters.

Of course, taking soda out of vending machines isn't going to solve the childhood obesity problem; however, it's a step in the right direction toward student and staff health.

Other steps: provide facilities that are an inspiration to be fit, not an invitation to overindulge. Give students opportunities to exercise and get fresh air. Provide cafeterias that serve healthful choices, which can become a part of everyday life. Encourage staff to be a good example. What are you doing in the battle against obesity? E-mail us and let us know.

SCORECARD

110

Number of calories in a typical non-diet soft drink (12 oz).

540

Number of calories in a large serving (6 oz.) of French fries.

18.8

Percentage of overweight children age 6 to 11 (2004).

17.1

Percentage of overweight adolescents age 12 to 19 (2004).

61

Percentage of young people that have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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