Written by Anne Kirby, Staff Writer
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5% of children and adolescents between the ages of two and nineteen in the U.S. currently struggle with obesity. Trends show that this prevalence also increases with age, indicating a likelihood of these children facing obesity later in life as well. The health risks of obesity are life-threatening. Recognizing this, the U.S. government has begun to prioritize policies for reducing childhood obesity. The most influential of these policies directly impacting children falls under the category of physical activity requirements in schools, and yet, there is still no federal mandate to ensure that this is happening.
While food choices at home are important for forming a foundation for health, children actually spend most of their hours outside of the home, at school. Therefore, discussions about how to reduce obesity through measures taken at school have been essential in the obesity crisis. One of the ways that schools do this is by requiring physical activity in elementary schools. Most schools now adopt the recommended minimum requirement of 60 minutes of daily physical activity for their students, but there are still many that fail to do so. Healthy eating at home plays a major role, but its benefits are almost null and void if the children are not also practicing strong exercise habits from a young age. In addition to releasing endorphins and helping children focus in school, physical activity is extremely important for students to prevent obesity. While widely adopted, there are currently no federal requirements for physical activity at schools in the U.S. Demanding that schools incorporate physical activity into a daily curriculum could potentially create exercise habits in children that would carry forward into their lives as teenagers and adults and prevent practices that lead to obesity.
Childhood and adolescence is a critical time period for forming healthy habits. As a country, we are currently not doing nearly enough to reduce the public health crisis of obesity. We are falling short in so many areas, and we have much work to do on our policies. School is a great place to start, as it is the easiest point of access to children and their daily schedules and decisions. While having healthy food available at home is a step, we are doing a disservice to our children by not making the physical activity at schools stricter. Our children are not failing us in their climb to obesity; we are failing them in our policies that shape their early behaviors. Policy could be the one thing that changes a kid’s health, whether they are cognizant of it or not. We owe that to the kids of our country.