Today we opened our local paper, The Washington Post, and read about a recent study that urges area schools to increase exercise requirements. To us, this read a little like “Sky Is Blue, Study Says.” But as the national debate over obesity indicates, that Post story is probably news to many. The prevalence of obesity among kids aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 more than doubled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19, the prevalence of obesity more than tripled. There are just two possibilities: Either kids started eating more, or they’ve been exercising less.
Some food cops will have you believe that kids used to eat stalks of celery for lunch in the ‘70s. But if anybody did, it was probably the food cops themselves — and they were probably the ones sitting alone in the cafeteria.
Joking aside, is it true that childhood obesity rates are rising because of schools failing to meet nutritional guidelines for school meals? Here’s a clue from the Post:
Researchers for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments surveyed nine area school districts and found that although all met federal nutrition guidelines for meals, none met the recommended 150 minutes of physical education a week. The average elementary school recess was 15 minutes a day and jurisdictions offered 40 to 90 minutes a week of physical education, the survey found.
So Washington students are eating meals that meet the nutrition guidelines set by the government. The problem, as the study suggests, is that they’re barely burning any calories.
Another recent study, from the journal Pediatrics, concluded much of the same. It found that nearly a third of children get little to no daily recess. The study’s authors suggest that the problem of childhood obesity must be addressed by more physical activity in school, where kids spend a majority of their day.
Exercise takes time and energy, and it’s much less convenient than playing the “hamburgers are making our kids fat” blame game. But it’s the only effective path to trimmer waistlines. (As a bonus, physical activity in the sun can help out the 75 percent of us who aren’t getting enough Vitamin D.)
All this evidence flies in the face of recent blame put on fast-food restaurants that happen to be near schools. As one columnist recently wrote, “We can point our fingers at restaurants, but it’s a little like the crack addict blaming his dealer.” If we take actual scientific evidence to heart, school officials should be encouraging their students — not nearby restaurants — to get up and move.