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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years. This is happening in spite of indications that childhood obesity could reduce life expectancy by five years or more. Many children are not participating in free-time physical activity and, according to Blank Children's Hospital, only 25 percent of children in the United States eat a healthy diet.
Considering children spend six or more hours at school and many eat school lunches or receive in school-provided breakfasts, schools can play a pivotal role in helping to control the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. Here's a look at just how schools are taking on that challenge.
• Discussing obesity in health and physical education classes: Information is power, and one way to help curb obesity rates is to give children the data needed to make informed decisions. Some schools have implemented healthy eating and exercise initiatives and made nutrition and other health-related topics key parts of health curricula.
• Modifying school lunch offerings: Schools are taking inventory of not only the foods they offer on lunch menus, but also the feel of the cafeteria so that healthy eating is encouraged. This may include removing vending machines that contain unhealthy snacks or providing a greater array of offerings that include fresh fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources. Some schools also are investing in components, such as salad bars, to store, prepare and display healthy foods.
• Extending lunch hours: Giving students adequate time to eat and digest can promote healthier eating habits. Research indicates that eating slowly can help a person feel full faster. According to Harvard Medical School, scientists have known for some time that a full stomach is only part of what causes someone to feel satisfied after a meal; the brain must also receive a series of signals from digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract. Eating slowly may prevent children from overeating later in the day. That can be achieved by having more time to eat at lunch.
• Teaching children how to prepare healthy foods: Some schools are taking the mystery out of food preparation by showing students how foods are being prepared in the cafeteria kitchen, while others include basic culinary education in their curricula and extracurricular offerings.
Childhood obesity may be an epidemic, but schools are in the position to curb obesity in young students.