Since I was a child, schools have become more involved in students’ lives. Home visits and interventions are some positive examples of this extra school participation. Yet, then there are other times when it seems schools may be overstepping boundaries. Such is the case of the recent “fat letters” that were sent out to parents from schools in North Andover, Mass. The letters informed parents if their child was obese, underweight, or at a healthy weight. Indeed, our nation has a childhood obesity epidemic. Yet, how involved should schools be in the war on obesity?
The “fat letters” had good intentions in wanting to raise parents’ awareness about childhood obesity. However, putting a label on a child can be hurtful. Also, as some parents complained, the Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings weren’t entirely accurate because they didn’t account for “muscle mass.” Rather than labeling, schools need to make sure their school lunches are healthy. In addition, kids need to be going out for physical education every day.
Controlling Food Intake
As a teacher, I brought in fresh fruit for class parties. However, while it’s good to offer healthy food, I don’t think schools should be controlling what kind of brown-bag lunches kids are bringing from home. Take, for instance, the notorious case when a school took away a child’s homemade lunch and replaced it with chicken nuggets. The reason: A lunch inspector said the child’s “turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apples juice did not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.” This illustrates how government policies can sometimes be intrusive rather than helpful in the war on obesity.
Encouraging Healthy Eating
I never liked it when my students brought in chips and a soda for their recess snack. However, it’s not my place to swoop down and take the child’s snack away. We may not be able to change the child’s diet and exercise plan at home. However, educators can encourage healthy eating. For instance, after eating fresh fruit, kids can write a descriptive sentence about the food. Another idea is to go outside for reading groups and provide healthy snacks for students.
Partnering With Physicians
Perhaps the best person to give out health advice to obese children (and adults) is a doctor. Yet, this isn’t always happening. In fact, government surveys from 2005 to 2008 revealed “one-third of the obese participants and 55% of overweight participants had never been told by a doctor that they were overweight.” Some parents might not even realize their child is overweight. Others are in denial on the issue. One answer to this problem is having schools partner with health organizations. The California Medical Association (CMA) Foundation’s Obesity Prevention program is promoting Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs. SRTS encourages kids to walk or ride to school while working to reduce traffic and increase safety near schools.
With more and more children reaching an unhealthy weight, something has to change. The war on obesity is quite real. Schools need to encourage a healthy lifestyle. However, promoting health has nothing to do with inspecting lunches and placing labels on children. In the end, childhood obesity will be hard to change until parents join in the fight.