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Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lun...

Childhood Obesity: Significance

There are several national health observances for the month of September. Of these, childhood obesity awareness may be among the most significant and timely in our society today. In terms of numbers, or prevalence of childhood obesity, one in three, or approximately 1/3 of American children fall into an overweight or obese (weight) category.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is common in the U.S., includes both over- and under-nourishment. The most common form of malnutrition (‘mal’ means ‘bad,’ ‘wrongful’ or ‘ill’) is obesity. Malnourished children are not necessarily ‘thin.’ In a world full of extremes, there are many children, of all shapes and sizes, not eating well enough for optimal growth, development and disease prevention.

Childhood Obesity: Awareness and Education

A First Lady must have her cause … for Michelle Obama it’s childhood obesity prevention. By drawing attention to the topic and being a self-nominated spokesperson, she can use her influence to encourage funding/program development. Her claims to fame include the “Let’s Move” and “We Can!” campaigns.

Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lunches

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is making some strides. Schools across the country are incorporating vegetarian meals (more veggies in general) into their lunch menus. The San Diego Unified district started a ‘meatless Mondays’ program. They offer garden veggie burgers, sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh salads.

In 2012, the USDA introduced new standards for American school lunch offerings to combat malnutrition and childhood obesity. School lunches should now feature whole grains, low-fat milk, more fruit and a healthier mix/selection of vegetables.

Based on results of a survey from 2005, serving more fruits and a healthier vegetable mix did slightly increase students’ vegetable consumption, although total consumption was still too low.  Availability of alternatives (choices) mattered in this survey – students at schools without à la carte options and those with only healthy à la carte options, had higher intakes of dark green vegetables.

Other good news: the percentage of school districts that allowed soda/soft drink advertising dropped significantly, 13%, from 2006 to 20012. In addition, the percentage of districts that prohibited junk food in vending machines (over the same time period) increased by about 14%. Soft drinks and junk foods in schools are less prevalent nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of nutrition-related information sent home to parents (on caloric content of foods available to students, etc.) is up as well as the overall nutritional standards in schools. Perhaps not ‘groundbreaking’ but certainly good news in the fight against childhood obesity.


Obesity and our children

Where are we in our fight against the “war on childhood obesity” in the United States? According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16% and 33% of children and teenagers are obese. Obesity increases the risk of suffering from chronic conditions and illnesses, such as heart disease. Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama has brought the spotlight back onto this issue, giving it a fresh perspective. The first step in preventing, and even reversing, this disturbing health crisis is in publicizing it or increasing awareness through media venues, campaigns, partnerships and alliances. The goal of the “Let’s Move” campaign is to improve nutrition and reduce childhood obesity. As a mom and a very prominent public figure, Michelle Obama realizes that with power comes a responsibility to make a difference through awareness and action. Most Americans don’t realize that obesity is the most common form of malnutrition in the United States today.

Childhood Obesity: “Let’s Move” Accomplishments

What has “Let’s Move” accomplished to defeat childhood obesity? Many large corporations and non-profit organizations have come forward, willing to donate time, money and resources to this cause. The National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and Disney have all teamed up with “Let’s Move” to create public service announcements (PSAs). These PSAs feature actors and athletes, who inspire kids to sign up for team sports and get active.

Raising healthier kids is no small undertaking. Luckily there are plenty of resources available, national and local, on- and off-line such as your state’s department of health services. Act now, act quickly. Start slowly.


1. Keep plenty of healthy foods in your home for quick snacks and meals, such as low- or non-fat yogurt, whole-grain crackers, fruits and vegetables and lean meats.

2. Play with your children, in and/or outdoors. Exercise reduces the risk for childhood and adolescent obesity.

3. Set an example. Live healthfully and show your child how it is done.