Can Schools Help Reduce Obesity Rates?

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One recent study published in the April issue of Pediatrics suggests that answer is yes, by an amazing fifty percent less incidence of obesity. The study, called the School Nutrition Policy Initiative, was conducted at ten schools in the Philadelphia area. Five of the schools eliminated all candy from the premises, and replaced soda with water, 100 percent juice, and milk for beverages. The schools also improved the quality of food and offered nutritious snacks. Additionally, students received about fifty hours of nutrition education over the course of the year and were given some incentives toward increasing physical activity.

The results of these small changes were an impressive fifty percent reduction in obesity rates among children in grades K-8 for the experimental group. This result was particularly important since the schools selected have a mostly urban population, where the obesity rate can be nearly 42 percent. Many of these children have little access to physical activity in their home environments due to safety concerns and less access to nutritious foods.

The program was developed by Temple University and The Food Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to making better food and nutrition affordable and available to all. The success of the program with just a few small changes is encouraging news. However, the Food Trust and the pediatricians involved view the results also as a sign that more can be done by extending the reach of the program to outside the schools and into the neighborhood and home environment.

As the costs of food rise, issues like childhood obesity rates and access to better food choices will become a greater issue as well. Ultimately, we all benefit from a healthier next generation. In order for most schools to change, however, the push to do so has to come from the community and involved parents, as well as outreach programs to the communities with lower income families face so many barriers to a healthy diet.

You can find more information on the program at the Food Trust web site.

[This post was written by Beth Bader.]

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