Fighting obesity with exercise, nutrition and education

exercise to lose weightThe opening bell of the 2006-07 school year signaled a new era in the ongoing fight against childhood obesity. Under the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act signed in 2004, a majority of public school districts in the United States are implementing Local Wellness Policies this fall. While a laudable first step, these policies are analogous to an architect's rendering of a new house: No matter how good the plan looks on paper, translating the vision into reality requires lots of hard work.

The federal wellness policy mandate places responsibility on each school district participating in the national school lunch and breakfast programs to adopt guidelines for all foods sold during the school day. They also must set goals for improving nutrition education and physical activity as each district deems appropriate. In California, nearly 3.1 million primary and secondary students are enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs.

The job before schools is crucial -- turning the wellness policies into sustainable action. The goal is to promote healthier eating and to increase physical activity. This means increasing the choices of nourishing foods and beverages, along with integrating nutrition education into the curriculum for all students. In addition, policies must include changes that incorporate quality physical education courses, daily recess and more after-school opportunities for exercise.

Addressing this historic wellness challenge is not something for schools alone. All of us who care deeply about our children's future need to strengthen our resolve to incorporate the changes.

While many districts' polices were enacted on time and meet the federal wellness policy mandate requirements, others fall short. According to an evaluation completed by Action for Healthy Kids, which included 112 Local Wellness Policies from 42 states, only half met the mandate's minimum requirements. This finding reminds us that many districts and schools need assistance in developing and implementing the best policies possible.

The current push for school wellness comes at a crucial time in the battle against childhood obesity. Will these new policies come to life and take student wellness to a whole new level, or will these documents sit on the shelf? The same partners who came together to craft these Local Wellness Policies -- parents and school administrators, nutrition and physical education professionals, school board members, students and community leaders -- must again step forward to ensure successful implementation.

Our nation cannot let this opportunity pass. The epidemic of overweight children is causing them to develop adult disease risk factors such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol and type 2 diabetes -- something once referred to as adult-onset diabetes. Seventy percent to 80 percent of overweight children and teens become overweight adults. With 60 percent of adults today overweight or obese, we must change course. If we do not, our current generation of youth may indeed be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

To assist schools, parents and communities in meeting these challenges, Action for Healthy Kids has launched its Campaign for School Wellness. This effort includes a broad range of resources and tools backed by a public-private partnership of more than 55 national organizations and government agencies representing education, health, fitness and nutrition, along with more than 6,000 volunteers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Today's schools work harder than ever before to respond to an unprecedented number of challenges and pressures. To help ensure that this new wellness mandate makes an impact on student success, Action for Healthy Kids will continue partnering with schools and contributing our talents, time and ideas.

Our children deserve the best learning environment that we can give them -- healthy students learn better. By continuing to work together, our vision for a new era of school wellness can indeed become reality.

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on November 4, 2006 12:01 AM.

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