Experts say we’re getting fatter.
And according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine, the key to battling the national obesity epidemic may lie within schools.
Two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly a third of children are either overweight or obese, according to the report, and schools may be able to change that by mandating at least 60 minutes of exercise for children per day and by serving healthier foods.
Joplin High School junior Elaina Warren said she thinks students don’t get enough exercise.
“I think we should have it year-round,” Warren said. “Kids should take it more seriously, and schools should encourage students to take it more seriously.”
If the obesity epidemic isn’t reversed, it could have a staggering effect on the U.S. economy, said Steve Kelder, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health who is a member of the Institute of Health.
“Insurance agencies are increasing rates,” Kelder said. “There are increased rates of hypertension in children and diabetes. Obesity will have an impact on our performance at work. It affects productivity, longevity and health care costs, and could interfere with educational goals. They’re projecting as many as 45 to 50 percent of kids being obese by 2030.”
Susan Flowers, a physical education teacher at Emerson and Irving elementary schools in Joplin, said Missouri mandates that students receive at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. The time students spend in P.E. has decreased in the past several years, she said, but Joplin students often exceed the 150-minute mandate through a combination of physical education classes, free recess time and structured activities.
A third of children being overweight is fairly consistent with this area, she said, and that number has grown over the years, in part because of children leading more sedentary lifestyles. Elementary students in Joplin have about 50 to 75 minutes of P.E. classes per week. Joplin middle school students have one semester of P.E. per school year for 48 minutes per day. High school students are required to have two semesters of P.E. during their four years of high school; that is about 48 minutes, five days a week.
Megan Hoyt, president of the Cecil Floyd PTA in Joplin, said she thinks the schools do the best they can to provide students adequate physical activity time. She said programs like those offered by the YMCA help, but addressing the obesity issues also starts at home.
“As a parent, physical activity is a part of our family, and we incorporate it into our everyday lives to get them outside,” Hoyt said.
‘Get them moving’
Elementary students in Carl Junction schools receive about 50 minutes of P.E. per week, middle school students have about 250 minutes per week, and high school students have 225 to 250 minutes of P.E. for 1 1/2 credits, or three semesters, said Carl Junction P.E. teacher Kevin Hauck.
“Here at Carl Junction, we try to teach our kids about healthy eating habits and exercise,” Hauck said. “We will talk to them about what muscles they’re working, how to get their heart rate up and help themselves at a higher level. We try to get them moving a lot.”
Recess and physical education classes at Webster Primary Center in Webb City bring students close to the 60-minute goal in the report, but not each school day, said Sarah Lee, school principal. All students get 20 minutes for recess, while first-graders attend a 30-minute P.E. class twice each week, and second-graders do so three times a week.
She said classes also take “brain breaks,” which are physical activities recommended by Shelly Gannaway, the school’s P.E. teacher, to stimulate the brain.
“The longer they’re in a chair, the less they’ll learn,” Lee said. “You want to get them up and moving.”
Gannaway said she uses a number of methods and programs to teach students the benefits of being active. She also incorporates spelling, math and science into her P.E. classes.
“It’s meant to be fun and creative,” she said. “There are so many benefits to being active, including increased blood flow and better concentration. I want to empower students to create a healthy lifestyle.”
Tony Rossetti, superintendent of Webb City schools, is well aware of the need for students to be active.
“From our perspective, we’ve not cut back on any of the time for P.E. or recess,” he said. “The conundrum we face is when we want to do more, we don’t have more time to do it with. If you expand one area, you do it at the expense of something else.”
He said schools work to develop healthy habits in younger students, and older students often get involved in programs that require them to be active, such as marching band. Part of the solution will be at home, Rossetti said, adding, “maybe a little less PSP and Xbox, and a little more playing outside.”
The report also addresses the importance of nutrition in children and how food advertising is affecting children. Rick Kenkel, child nutrition services director for the Joplin School District, said efforts have been made to improve food services through taste testing and offering more fresh fruit, as well as decreasing fatty items, such as switching to different corn dogs and eliminating nachos.
Warren, the high school junior, has noticed changes in the school lunches, and she said more changes could be made.
“I think certain days there are healthy choices, but most of the time they’re not healthy enough,” Warren said. “Most of them are baked, not fried, so that helps a little bit, but it could be healthier.”
Rossetti said schools are under stringent guidelines when it come to changes that have been made in the federal lunch program.
“I’m not denying our role, but it still comes down to what the student chooses off the plate,” he said. “Schools can present a healthy meal; that doesn’t always mean the broccoli will get eaten.”
“WE’RE SEEING MORE classroom teachers implementing physical activities into lessons,” said Susan Flowers, a physical education teacher at Emerson and Irving elementary schools in Joplin. “A lot of them realize it enhances learning and causes growth in nerves in the brain, and gets them ready to focus again on learning.”
Report suggests schools may have means to fight epidemic in United States
Experts say we’re getting fatter.
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