schools_preventing_obesity

Schools

Healthy Schools, Healthy Weight

The foundation for lifelong good health is laid in childhood. And outside of home life, nothing provides more of an immersive experience for children than the time they spend in school. This means schools have a rich opportunity to improve youth health and tackle obesity at the ideal point in time—before problems take hold.

In This Section

Inside and outside the classroom, there are many ways for schools to promote good health and healthy weight. Learn how schools can help children eat well and stay active during the school day, monitor weight trends, and teach children healthy habits for life.

Healthy Schools, Healthy Weight

The foundation for lifelong good health is laid in childhood. And outside of home life, nothing provides more of an immersive experience for children than the time they spend in school. This means schools have a rich opportunity to improve youth health and tackle obesity at the ideal point in time—before problems take hold.

One of the main avenues that schools can use to positively affect health is also one most directly in line with every school’s mission: educating students. Nutrition and physical activity lessons can be woven into the curriculum—in core classroom subjects, physical education, and after-school programs—to teach skills that help students choose and maintain healthy lifestyles. In addition to teaching evidence-based nutrition and activity messages, school physical education should focus on getting students engaged in high-quality and regular activity.

Schools can also promote health outside of the classroom, by surrounding students with opportunities to eat healthy and stay active. To improve nutrition, schools can include healthier food offerings in the cafeteria and eliminate marketing of unhealthy foods. To improve activity, schools can develop safe walking and biking routes to school, and can promote active recess time.

Wellness programs for faculty and staff can also be integral to improving the school environment, not only serving to boost faculty and staff health but also building school-wide enthusiasm for student-focused programs.

Additionally, schools can serve as important data sources on student health. Anonymous, school-level information on markers like students’ body mass index (BMI) can help educators and policy-makers assess success of current programs and decide the direction of future programs.

With good evidence that school-based prevention programs can successfully—and without many added resources—help students to eat better, be more active, and achieve healthier weights, schools are poised to become an integral part of the fight against the obesity epidemic. As with education in general, the sooner we act, the better.

This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for the school setting, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the World Health Organization, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.

School Meals, Competitive Foods, and the School Food Environment

Serving healthy choices in the lunch room, limiting availability and marketing of unhealthful foods and sugary drinks, and making water available to students throughout the day are some of the ways that schools can help prevent obesity.
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Staying Active throughout the School Day

Children require at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Schools can help prevent obesity by offering higher quality and more active physical education for all grades, every day, and by promoting physical activity throughout the school day.
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Health Education and School Wellness

It’s essential to incorporate nutrition and physical activity into a school’s health education curriculum. These topics can be woven into other classroom subjects, too. School district wellness policies should address nutrition and physical activity and encompass staff wellness, not just student wellness.
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Body Mass Index (BMI) Assessment at School

Gathering students’ BMIs, in the aggregate, can help schools monitor the success of obesity prevention efforts; screening students’ BMIs for individual health assessment purposes is more controversial and requires schools to address privacy and parent communication, among other issues.
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Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.