Report Card: Children, Obesity, and Schools / Grade = F (Needs Improvement)
Take a stroll down any street and it becomes pointedly apparent that Americans are, on average, heavier than they have ever been. But what is most shocking, is the number of children who have become de facto victims of this epidemic. Residential communities that were once alive with the sound of children have grown still and silent, while bustling schoolyard playgrounds have become veritable vacant lots.
Have Schools Gone Too Far…?
While much of the world's lesser ills can be, and often are, traced to the home, an alarming trend is taking hold in both public and private schools across the country that is contributing to the increase in child obesity.
Recently, several school districts have elected to prohibit students from engaging in traditional playground games like dodge ball and tag, contending that such games are potentially dangerous, and promote poor sportsmanship and unhealthy competition, while increasing the risks of possible litigation against the school districts.
A National Parent Teacher Association survey indicates that approximately two-fifths of the nation's elementary schools have abolished recesses or are currently considering such eliminations. Other schools seem to have been influenced by litigious fears prompted by ever-increasing numbers of frivolous lawsuits. Instead of doing away with recess altogether, they have taken to restricting students from participating in any activities which could cause injury. Some schools have even posted "No Running" signs on playgrounds.
Additionally, physical education classes, which were once a required component of every school's curriculum, have been disappearing from schools altogether, as districts attempt to tighten their collective belts and see P.E. as acceptable collateral damage in their fight to ensure that no child is left behind.
The irony of declining physical activity in schools is absurdly underscored by the increased accessibility to junk food. The federal government provides minimal standards for ensuring nutrition in foods served and sold in the country's schools, adopting a laissez faire attitude toward these "competitive foods" that comprise an unhealthy bulk of students' daily diet.
…Or Have You Not Gone Far Enough?
Many children are spending more time in school, after-school programs, and daycare, and less time at home. Additionally, the increased need for two incomes to support a family means fewer opportunities for parents and children to interact. When they don't have the time to do otherwise, parents are, at best, conferring many of their parenting responsibilities upon schools and quality childcare programs. Unfortunately, there are others who see fit to trust their child's upbringing to the 21st century's newest nannies, PlayStation® and Xbox®. This latter trend is leading children toward more sedentary pursuits, encouraging them to stay indoors on the weekends and after school rather than enjoy an afternoon pick-up ball game or hide and seek.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of the Sciences, and its report, "Focus on Childhood Obesity," approximately 9 million children, six years of age and older, are currently obese. The report indicates that since the 1970s, the percentage of obesity in preschool-age children (2-5 years) and adolescents (12-19 years) has doubled, while for children aged 6-11 years, that percentage has more than tripled. While the trend toward child obesity cannot be placed entirely at the feet of the nation's schools, many do not seem too concerned with finding a solution. The question, then, becomes: what are you prepared to do for the health and welfare of your child?
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