What Should Schools Care About?

At the turn of the millennium, schools were being pressured to bring up academic test scores, no matter what. Meanwhile, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) had written:

Health and success in school are interrelated. Schools cannot achieve their primary mission of education if students and staff are not healthy and fit physically, mentally, and socially.

In those few words, the raw material can be found for an infinite amount of disagreement. Parents, politicians, teachers, school administrators, and many other interest groups have a stake in prescribing the mission of schools in America. Who gets to define physical health? Who gets to define mental health or — most volatile of all — social health? These monumental questions resist consensus and compromise.

In that quotation, see where it mentions health and fitness for both students and staff? Before going in more serious directions, this is a good opportunity to mention what Emily Richmond wrote several years later, when conditions had started to change, of her time as a reporter on the education beat:

I did some quality control spot checks at various campuses after the junk food ban was passed. I found that bottled water and graham crackers had indeed replaced the sports drinks and chocolate bars — with one notable exception: the machines in the faculty lounges were fully stocked with the familiar array of candy, chips and sugary sodas. That the ban didn’t extend to the adults on campus illustrates the larger challenge facing schools, families, and communities as a whole.

That larger challenge encompasses, on a regular basis, such issues as hypocrisy, as well as the reluctance to include or ignore particular bits of science, depending on the participants’ bias.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control published “The Role of Schools in Preventing Childhood Obesity,” whose nine pages included 10 strategies to improve student nutrition and increase the opportunities for physical activity. The document stressed the need for each school in the country to have a Coordinated School Health Program, including a coordinator and a school health council.

School strategies for reducing obesity

Administrators were encouraged to use the CDC’s School Health Index to list measures already in place, and note the elements that were missing but needed. Each state was tasked with determining whether junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages could be sold in schools. They needed to decide how much physical activity kids ought to engage in, and figure out how to induce them to do it. They needed to think about whether it was appropriate to encourage such programs as safe walk-to-school routes.

Great emphasis was put on improved meals. The “Role of Schools” paper is energy exchange formula-oriented, all about nutrition and activity; and does not include the words “weigh” or “scale,” and only mentions Body Mass Index in the context of defining overweight to discuss the national percentage of overweight kids. Other statistics were grim, too. Richmond mentioned that the rate of absenteeism was 20% higher among the children who were headed for obesity. She also wrote,

Kaiser Permanente conducted a nationwide survey and found that 90 percent of respondents believed schools should “play a role in reducing obesity in their community” and 64 percent supported it being “a major role.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Role of Schools in Preventing Childhood Obesity,” CDC.gov, 2004
Source: “Should Schools Be Responsible for Childhood Obesity Prevention?,” TheAtlantic.com, 07/15/13
Image by ashish joy/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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