How to Stop Childhood Obesity According to the CDC
Childhood obesity is clearly a problem. We don’t need statistics to know there are a bunch of fat kids waddling around these days. Just open your eyes. But, statistics do help us to isolate the problem and think of solutions. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came out with a report basedon statistics from 2007-08 data reported by 37 states. It proposes to solve childhood (or at least high school) obesity through increased education. At first I didn’t understand why the CDC was involving itself in public school health education; it seemed to me they should be more concerned about reducing obesity in the general population (not just high school). The answer lies with HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) who is using the report to shape health education policy. Reading the report I see a few problems.
- 13% of high schools students are obese (> 95th percentile of body mass index)
- 79% ate fruits and vegetables less than five times per day
- 34% drank a can, bottle or glass of soda at least once per day
- 65% did not meet recommended levels of physical activity
- 46% did not attend physical education classes
- 35% watched television 3 or more hours per day on school days
- 25% played video or computer games for something unrelated to school for 3 or more hours on school days
The Solution According the HHS and CDC:
1. Better health education
2. More physical education and physical activity programs
3. Healthier school environments
4. Better nutrition services
For more statistics read the report; it’s illuminating when viewed with a critical eye. Here are the problems:
1. More education won’t do any good if A). The obese 13% are not the kinds who are affected by education, and B). The education isn’t any good (more of a bad thing is still bad). Where is the research (there should be a link) that says health education is even effective in the first place?
2. How do they know that healthier food options at school will reduce obesity in that 13%? Are they even eating school food or are they bringing their own Twinkies to school? What is their home diet like? Healthier options are obviously a must, but the causes and effects need to be defined.
3. I do not know of a correlation between TV and obesity; that sounds like an assumption not based on research. In fact, studies show the exact opposite. TV is not correlated to obesity (hours watching television has remained static for 20 years yet obesity has skyrocketed).
4. Video Games are another Red Herring (you can’t make an assertion based on an unsupported assumption).
5. The data represents 37 states. I have never known a blanket solution to work across a full spectrum of societal attitudes and cultures. This leads me to ask, why are individual states not responsible for setting health education standards that correspond their own unique issues?
For as many holes as the report has I also agree with a few points. It goes on, below the solutions, to outline current school health and environmental statistics. They include the fact that only 16% of students can purchase fruits and vegetables at school while 77% could buy soda or non juice drinks. 50% could buy candy. Also, only 2% of schools required daily physical education for all students for the entire year. These figures represent a troubling picture. It paints the picture of schools that don’t value physical education and who have given control of their nutritional standards to corporations in the form of vending machines. The problem, at least in terms of what the school can control, is not health education; it’s the lack of a forced nutritious diet and the allowance of unhealthy alternatives. Kids will almost always choose the unhealthy option if given a choice. Better to not give them the choice.
1. Better nutrition services: School lunches are hideous. It’s not surprising that kids choose chocolate and soda over school lunch; I would too. School lunches are known to use substandard meats and be terribly unbalanced even while purporting to be a complete nutrition package (ketchup isn’t a vegetable).
2. Healthier School Environments: There is enough research which says increased unresolved calories makes you fat that there can be no arguments that vending machines full of candy bars and soda are a bad idea. I don’t know when it became acceptable to the government to allow insipid advertising in our schools to our kids. It shouldn’t be allowed.
3. More Physical Activity: This is something that schools have complete control over. However, in order to make it effective the schools need to have more legal leeway. Physical education programs have disappeared in part because of funding and misplaced priorities and also because of legal concerns. Already cash strapped districts aren’t going to want to open themselves up to costly helicopter parent lawsuits.
Statistics don’t lie, but making decisions based on the numbers isn’t easy. The trend for childhood obesity is going up, and it’s clear that changes need to be made. Putting more money into education is probably not the solution; it hasn’t been in the past. The fact that obesity is a problem does not in itself justify more money. It seems the government’s first inclination is to increase funding for classroom learning even though increased spending has little impact on real learning. The government can do some things to improve health at public schools like getting rid of vending machines, increasing the quality of the school lunch program and bringing back physical education. However, it is not the responsibility of government to keep our kids fit, it’s ours. If we can’t teach them healthy habits, no amount of class time is going to fix the problem.