Schools play an important role in the health and well-being of our children. In the past 20 years, the prevalence of overweight children aged 6 to 11 has more than doubled, growing from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2010. Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to remain overweight or become obese adults, putting them at risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as social stigmatization and poor self-esteem. (CDC)Winning this battle will be a community effort. Recently, schools have begun looking at ways to take on this challenge by incorporating lessons about healthy eating and regular physical activity into their curricula.
Recent changes to the National School Lunch Program highlight the critical role schools play in teaching children to make healthier choices. Schools are now working with students, staff, parents and other community members to address problems that contribute to childhood obesity, such as poor nutritional habits and lack of physical activity, by developing school wellness policies.
Local school districts are forming School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) to improve the health and well-being of students in their schools. SHACs include parents, students, school administrators, teachers, food service staff and community members, working collaboratively to identify ways schools can build healthier environments and encourage better choices about nutrition and physical activity. Some initiatives being introduced at area schools include:
- Providing healthy breakfasts for all students and healthy snack alternatives in vending machines, cafeterias and classrooms.
- Providing healthier lunch line choices including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and salads.
- Eliminating use of trans fats and reducing access to items like french fries, soda and pizza.
- Developing alternatives to fundraising programs that involve the sale of sweets.
- Increasing opportunities for physical activity during the school day by increasing recess time, reinstating physical education classes, building activity into classroom projects and creating walking clubs.
Hamilton County Public Health is interested in working with Hamilton County school districts as they look for ways to incorporate lessons about healthy eating and regular physical activity into their curricula. For more information, contact Hamilton County Public Health at 513-946-7926.