Educators and Childhood Obesity

Written By: Mary M. Alward
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Obesity in childhood is rising to epidemic proportions in America and educators should be concerned. The statistics of obesity in children are alarming. Using the 95 percentile and higher of body mass, the following statistics have been gathered:

Statistics for children ages 6 to 11 are as follows:

22.1 percent of black girls and 11.9 percent of boys are overweight.

27.3 percent of Mexican American boys and 19.6 percent of girls are overweight.

12.0 percent of white girls and 11.9 percent of boys are overweight.

Statistics for children ages 12 to 19 are as follows:

25.7 percent of black girls and 20.5 percent of boys are overweight.

27.5 percent of Mexican American boys and 19.4 percent of girls are overweight.

13.0 percent of white boys and 12.2 percent of girls are overweight.

In the last twenty years the rate of obese children between the ages of 6 and 19 has more than doubled. These statistics predict a bleak future. Children who are obese have a 70 percent chance of continuing this trend into adulthood. This leads to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and a wide range of other health problems that reduce life expectancy.

Children who are obese have low self-esteem, suffer from depression and are often bullied or teased. They have lower grades than children who are within the ideal weight range.

What is Obesity?

Obesity occurs when a child is 30 percent over his ideal body weight. This occurs because the child consumes more calories that his body burns. Obesity is directly related to the following factors:

Abuse - mental, physical or sexual.

Bad eating habits.

Emotional problems.

Family history.

Genetics.

Lack of physical activity.

Illness.

Stress.

Lack of physical activity at school has an impact on childhood obesity. Many schools have eliminated physical education from their curriculum because of financial cutbacks and the push for higher test scores. Research has proven that lack of physical activity has a profound negative effect on a child's ability to learn. Therefore, educators must make physical education a top priority.

Schools and Nutrition

Many schools rely on the proceeds from candy and soft drink machines for much-needed funds. This is detrimental to the health of our children. In recent years, parents and health professionals have shoved to have these machines removed from school and many educational facilities have cooperated. This decreases student access to high calorie foods while they are at school.

School cafeterias add to the problem of childhood obesity. In many cafeterias students have access to hamburgers, French fries, potato chips, rich desserts and chocolate bars and other sweets. Educators and parents must band together to stop this practice and force cafeterias to promote good nutrition and well-balanced meals that include lots of fruits and vegetables.

Promoting a Healthy Diet

Educators can promote a healthy diet and lifestyle in students by using the following criteria:

Have children keep a food diary.

Teach nutrition in the classroom.

Teach healthy living habits and be a good role model by allowing students to see them making good food choices.

If no physical education is offered in their school, educators should have children play games that allow them to be physically active or promote fitness by having children move to music.

Take time at least once a day for students to be physically active.

Teach students that food is not a cure for depression or other emotional issues. Encourage them to talk to a friend or the school counselor.

Give points and rewards for physical activity.

Have students read books that promote a healthy lifestyle.

Teach students to record the time they spend in physical activity.

Helping Overweight Students

Never call attention to a student's weight.

Teach students to focus on their positive qualities.

Provide encouragement and support.

Reward healthy lifestyle choices.

Meet with the child's parents to encourage intervention by taking their child to a dietician/nutritionist.

Encourage other educators in your school to give support to overweight kids.

Parent Cooperation

There are a few ways that educators can promote parent cooperation:

Meet with the student's parents on a regular basis to encourage and support them in helping their overweight child.

Be aware of cultural differences when speaking with parents.

Provide parents with nutritional information. Many parents lack this knowledge.

Encourage parents to promote physical activity at home.

Explain that high calorie foods can cause serious health problems for their child.

Suggest the child eat well-balanced meals and snacks, including breakfast.

Make parents aware of the fact that the entire family must focus on a health lifestyle if their overweight child is to succeed. Promote nutritious meals and lots of physical activity as a family unit. Bicycling, jogging and hiking are just a few examples.

Ask parents to decrease the time their child spends playing video games, watching TV and surfing online.

Encourage dance lessons, gymnastics, sports and other physical activities.

Keeping Kids Active

Each morning after opening exercises, have children do stretches and bends in the classroom.

Take students outdoors or to the gym for an exercise period each day. This could include students running around the block or around the gym.

Educators must realize it is their job to teach their students how to lead a healthy lifestyle and the importance of a daily exercise regime. If your school doesn't have a physical education program, step up to the plate and help students stay active. When students are physically active, they have a higher ability to learn, which in turn ensures that their future will be brighter.

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