Apr 08 2010

Is the “No Child Left Behind Act” Contributing to Childhood Obesity?

By Lisa Garner

 Will this generation of American children be the first ever not to live as long as their parents, or do American schools still have time to intervene before it’s too late? Under the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have had to cut back or eliminate physical education and health programs to accommodate an increase in academic time to help prepare students for mandated standardized testing. However, research suggests that children who are physically active and well nourished actually perform better on standardized tests than their counterparts who received more academic class time. As a result of implementing physical activity and proper nutrition back into our schools, there would be no child left behind, and we’d be giving them the opportunity to get fit and able to learn for a lifetime.

  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overweight children have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese as adults and face higher risks for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Obese children are also at risk for developing social and psychological problems which may require additional counseling services. As of 2008, the medical costs for treating obesity-related diseases alone soared to a staggering $147 billion dollars which is placing more financial burdens on an already crippled economy.

   Research suggests that overeating and lack of physical activity are to blame for the spike in childhood obesity. Aside from genetic predisposition, a child’s lifestyle does play a vital role in determining their weight. An average American child spends over 24 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen and ingests far more calories than the body expends. As a result, many children are making unhealthy food choices and not getting enough physical activity. The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend that children engage in at least sixty minutes of physical activity each day. Since children spend over half of their day in school and consume a large portion of their daily food intake there, doesn’t it seem reasonable that they should receive at least 30 minutes of physical activity too?

 Unfortunately, many people feel it is the sole responsibility of the individual school districts to solve the obesity epidemic. Although schools play a vital role, how can these institutions alone intervene when many school districts are facing budgetary constraints and elimination of the very programs needed to make a difference?  They can’t do it alone, but they can begin by using a little creativity and forming partnerships with other public, private, and voluntary organizations which can ease some of the financial burden for all.  

   If your school district has cut back on physical education or other health related programs, classroom teachers may be able to bear some of the burden ( yes, again) by implementing brief stretching or conditioning exercises between classes. Several two to four minute “stretch” breaks could be woven into the school day, which could possibly add up to 20 minutes of physical activity by the end of the week. Simple tag games or relay races can also be used to incorporate physical fitness activities into any of the other curriculum areas. During recess, children could participate in simple calisthenics or take a brisk walk with their classmates. With a little ingenuity and flexibility, anything is possible!

 Other options available for individuals or school districts are community service programs such as the NFL’s Play 60 which partners with numerous businesses, health care agencies, and community service organizations to promote physical fitness for children of all ages.

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