A recent report by the Institute of Medicine has called on the nation's schools to play a key role in stemming the steady increase in childhood obesity by requiring physical education and including food literacy along with other staple subjects such as reading and math. In a Wall Street Journal article, Dan Glickman, chairman of the panel that wrote the report, said, "If you believe this is a massive national problem, you have to deal with it in a systems way." Yet, the article continues, the challenge is in making the changes.
Schools in Massachusetts are going so far as to ban bake sales and limit access to junk foods during the school day. While it may seem like a lot for schools to take on, many health policy experts see schools'where kids spend much of their day'as a prime target for the fight against obesity.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration unveiled changes to the federally-funded National School Lunch Program to upgrade nutritional standards and ensure that kids receive more fruits and vegetables while at school.' California has already begun to address the way kids eat at school by banning soda and offering low calorie foods.' The changes seem to be working. New research shows that, compared to teens in 14 other states, California students consumed on average 158 fewer calories per day.
New research also suggests that gym class and recess are a benefit to kids mentally as well as physically, by encouraging cooperation and conflict resolution. Esther Entin, M.D., a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of Family Medicine at Brown University's Warren Alpert School of Medicine, reports on research in The Atlantic that suggests that recess time can be considered a potentially influential part of the school day that can foster important skills in individual students and in school communities. Despite this, continues Entin, academic, budgetary and overcrowding issues have conspired to reduce recess.
Case in point: A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that in California, where there is a mandate requiring 200 minutes of school physical education every ten days, kids in districts that offered phys ed performed better on fitness tests. Surprisingly, only half of the CA school districts studied fulfilled the state mandate for PE.