Summer is here, and the list of outdoor activities for kids is endless … swimming, biking, pickup softball games at the local park, tag or dodgeball with the neighborhood kids. But it makes me wonder: What are kids really doing? Are they outside being active, or are they inside playing video games, updating their Facebook pages or watching hour after hour of television?
In February, First Lady Michelle Obama rolled out a national initiative to fight childhood obesity, appropriately called "Let’s Move." One in three children in this country is either overweight or obese, she says. And if that trend continues, this generation of children will not live as long as their parents.
With the president’s support and as much as $1 billion a year in federal funds for 10 years, the program has bipartisan support. The initiative has four pillars: more nutrition information, increased physical activity, easier access to healthful foods and personal responsibility.
In addition to challenging the Food and Drug Administration to work with food and beverage producers on package labeling, the initiative specifically addresses schools: It pushes to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act to improve school meals. Companies that supply food to schools already have agreed to cut salt and fat content, as well as offer more whole grains and more fresh fruits.
Another change for schools: the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports will be revamped to focus more on health and well-being, rather than the number of pushups students can do or their prowess at the broad jump.
The challenge: getting students on board for the long term. After all, education institutions can reduce fried, unhealthful food in cafeterias, take soda out of the vending machines and encourage kids to move more during physical-education classes or walk to campus instead of driving, but they can’t force kids to live more healthfully.
The First Lady’s plan is a good start. As this school year ends and summer begins, think of ways your institution can help. Encourage students to use the outdoor track during the summer, or open up the athletic facilities to the community during hours when it’s not in use. Signage encouraging healthy habits may get the attention of students who need an extra push. Or maybe a little healthy competition held on school grounds will get the ball rolling.
Lustig is executive editor of AS&U.