Child and Adolescent Obesity — What To Do?

School kids at lunchtime

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Evidence Policy and Practice is a book with global perspective, drawing relevant information from contributors from many countries whose credentials take up pages and pages. One of the points it makes is the necessity to start young when attempting to prevent obesity. At a certain age, babies are supposed to crawl, and if they skip that stage, big problems can arise later. There is an optimal span of years for learning languages. It seems there are opportunity windows or sweet spots for everything.

This book tells us there is an optimal age range for interventions having to do with both physical activity and eating behaviors. Kids from 5 to 11 are malleable in those ways. In most societies, children spend a lot of time at school, so at first glance it seems obvious that schools should be prevailed upon to carry the burden of not only education, but of making and enforcing anti-obesity policy. It only makes sense.

Or does it? In some countries, the right of the government to tell schools what to do is unquestioned. In others, portions of the public tend to push back. Strangely, the resisters are from divergent parts of the political spectrum.

Childhood Obesity News is interested in the question of junk food in schools. How does it get there? Vending machines have found their way into children’s educational institutions, a circumstance that once would have been unimaginable. Preventing Childhood Obesity says:

The kinds of foods sold in school vending machines are mostly high-fat and high-sugar nutrient poor foods and beverages that promote weight gain…. Furthermore, offering this type of foods for sale inside the school contradicts the health messages that children receive in the classroom or in health promotion efforts.

A province of Australia took advantage of the “captive audience” by making rules for school canteens, as they call student cafeterias there. They label items according to the traffic-light system. Green lights are unrestricted, yellow lights should only enter a child’s life once a month or so, and red-light items, like soft drinks, should only be indulged in twice per semester.

The book mentions some other methods of control exercised by schools, such as not allowing unhealthy products to be sold “during meal periods in the food service areas; nevertheless, they can be sold anywhere else in the school.” “Tuck shop” is a term used in what remains of the British Empire, meaning a place to buy snacks, and tuck shops are found in or near schools of all kinds. The book acknowledges the difficulties with regulating vending machines and tuck shops:

Because the sale of these foods can generate revenue to the school to support different types of activities, regulating the sale of these items can be quite difficult.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Preventing Childhood Obesity: Evidence Policy and Practice,”, 2010
Image by U.S. Dept of Agriculture

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