Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Healthy Eating At Home, School Can Help Reduce Obesity Rates

Researcher Terry Spradlin discusses implications of childhood obesity trends and gives suggestions to parents and educators for how to encourage healthy living.

kids playing in the ocean

Photo: ivarsha (Flickr)

Being physically active for at least one hour every day is crucial to a child's health.

What The Numbers Say

Earlier this year, the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) released a report that examined childhood obesity in the context of recent health statistics and government policy.

The results were sobering:

  • The rate of adult obesity has nearly tripled from roughly 13 percent in 1960 to about 35 percent today.
  • There are approximately 23 million children and teenagers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese.

Federal Programs To The Rescue?

The publication analyzed many recent government initiatives, including the Action for Healthy Kids Organization, the Let’s Move! campaign and the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Terry Spradlin, co-author of the report and the Director for Education Policy at CEEP, believes these programs and policies are on-target, but it will take time before they noticeably affect overall obesity statistics. That’s because it has taken nearly five decades to triple the U.S. rate of obesity.

“We’re not going to change those statistics overnight,” he says.

Healthy At School

Educators play a key role in improving children’s health since kids spend one third of their day in school. Spradlin says schools should be invested in this issue because a child’s health contributes to her performance in the classroom. For instance, overweight students are more likely to have low attendance rates.

The report recommends schools take control of the food available to students by limiting access to vending machines and encouraging participation in school breakfast programs.

Healthy At Home

The research also emphasizes the role parents can play in the health of their children.

In addition to planning healthy meals for kids to enjoy during the school day, Spradlin and his team recommend limiting the amount of money kids spend on vending machines during the school day.

Being physically active for at least one hour every day is also crucial to a child’s health. The study found that only 18 percent of students in grades 9-12 are fulfilling that recommendation.

Three-Pronged Effort

“If we can convince parents and educators to take this issue seriously, then it will complement what our federal and state governments are doing to heighten the awareness of this epidemic.”

Spradlin is hopeful we will see a dip in obesity rates in 5 to 10 years.

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Amanda Solliday

Amanda Solliday is a reporter for WFIU/WTIU News and a news anchor on WFIU’s Morning Edition. She has won awards for radio news reporting from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRDNI) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). You can follow her on Twitter @AjSolliday

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