The cost of healthy foods and the lack of physical activity
among children and teenagers are fueling the obesity
Bottom line? Too many people cannot afford to eat healthy. Well,
the truth is they cant afford not to eat healthy, but eating
healthy foods is too expensive. A grocery store I was in recently
had a nice display of personal-size cantaloupes with a sign for
$1.49. What wasnt so well displayed on the sign was that the price
was $1.49 per pound. One mini personal cantaloupe really cost
$6.20. Likewise, a small bag of black grapes came to $7.60. These
were at a basic grocery store and not organic produce.I cant afford
these prices, one mother said to a friend.I can buy two boxes of
fruit snacks for what it would cost me for one small serving of
Improving Health in Children Takes Center Stage
In 2010, the television show Jamie Olivers Food Revolution brought
the issue of school and family nutrition to the forefront of public
consciousness. Oliver accomplished a shock effect when he reported
that this current generation may very well be the first not
expected to outlive their parents.
At the time, West Virginia was statistically one of the
unhealthiest states with the most obese residents. Oliver chose to
film his first program there as he attempted to help families
become healthy at homeand at schools because that is where many
kids develop their eating habits. He met with a significant amount
of resistance from students, as well as cafeteria workers and
administrators who have to follow specific dietary guidelines.
Oliver expressed disbelief when he was told he could not serve a
veggie-filled stir-fry containing fresh vegetables because it
lacked the minimum number of vegetables required by state-mandated
guidelines. Instead, he was asked to alter the dish to include
french fries, which counted as a vegetable. Go figure.
Also in 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched an initiative
focusing on fitness and food: Lets Move: Americas Move to Raise a
Healthier Generation of Kids. The First Lady has often been quoted
as saying that America wont solve its problems just by passing laws
in Washington, D.C. Instead, her initiative brings together states
and communities, as well as nonprofit and for-profit private
sectors, in partnership as a new independent foundation:
Partnership for a Healthier America.
To be sure, the statistics are grim. As noted in a press release
for Lets Move!, research from the Centers for Disease Control
reports that childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over
the past three decades, as nearly one in three children are
overweight or obese.
CDC research also states that one-third of all children born in
2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their
lives, and many others will face chronic obesity-related health
problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and
asthma. A more recent CDC study put the healthcare costs of
obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year.
We know that stopping childhood obesity isnt just the job of
government, or doctors, or community organizations. We all have a
role to play. Communities have been the driving force behind Lets
Move! People and organizations from all over the United States,
such as Trust for Americas Health (TFAH) and The Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation, have stepped up. Companies such as Wal-Mart
have also joined the cause by requiring their stores to sell food
grown within a certain radius of the store.
Choose Sustainability to Improve Safety and
The obesity epidemic is really weighing the nation down. Indeed,
our increasing size affects the nations safety and security.
Obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military
service. For example, according to the Federal Register, effective
December 1, 2011, the United States Coast Guard will amend
regulations that govern the maximum weight and number of passengers
for vessel safety, including increasing the assumed average weight
per person (AAWPP) from 140 to 185 pounds.
The transportation industry is rethinking safety regulations for
buses and other vehicles, as are elevator companies.
The list of proposed and pending, legislation is long. Dealing with
obesity-related healthcare costs is part of the
yet-to-be-implemented health-care overhaul, a law enacted in part
to diminish the drag of healthcare costs on the national economy.
Individuals, Farms, Schools, and Communities Step Up to the
Communities and individual leaders across the country are not
waiting for government to mandate action; they see the benefits of
changes today. Here are a few highlights:
- King County Steps to Health is a federally funded program lead
by community partners and Public Health agencies in Seattle and
King County. The program focuses on the areas of asthma, diabetes,
obesity, nutrition, and physical activity.
- Diana Johnson of Auburn, Washington, was distraught at the
statistics in her community, which has higher obesity rates than
all the other communities in King County combined. In 2010, she
partnered with the City of Auburn and the Auburn Valley YMCA to
develop the Healthy Cooking Program, which provides free classes to
educate community members about nutrition, preventing diabetes and
obesity, and cooking healthy meals on a tight budget. The program
partners with other organizations, including the Auburn
International Farmers Market.
- Farmers markets are stepping up to the plate to not only
improve the health of our communities, but also to reduce our
carbon footprints. For example, the Farm to School program connects
schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving
healthy meals in school cafeterias; improving student nutrition;
providing agriculture, health, and nutrition education
opportunities; and supporting local and regional farmers. According
to the Farm to School website, there are currently 48 states with
operational programs, for a total of 2,257 programs covering 9,629
Physical Education on the Chopping Block
Healthy food, however, is just one side of the childhood obesity
issue. The lack of physical activity is also to blame, as many
students spend most of their day sitting in a classroom, and will
go home to watch television, surf the net, or play video games.
This issue will only increase as budget woes force more schools to
cut budgets for nonacademic programming, such as physical education
In March 2011, South Carolina proposed cutting millions of dollars
from physical education programs to meet its budget crisis.
However, such programs as the Carol M. White Physical Education
Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is
providing PEP grants to make up for some of the lost funds.
However, grants are usually one-time only, resulting in a temporary
band-aid to the problem.
Published by the American Association of Physical Activity and
Recreation (AAPAR), 2010 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of
Physical Education in the USA, finds some incremental improvements,
but also details some startling and disturbing trends. The report
reveals that many schools are not offering physical education
courses during the school day. According to AAPARs study, in 1991,
42 percent of students attended daily physical education classes;
by 2003, this number had fallen to 28 percent. In addition, only 18
percent of states require elementary schools to provide daily
Only five states (Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and
Vermont) currently require physical education in every grade K-12;
New Jersey and Rhode Island require in every grade 1-12. Most
schools allow some type of waiver to get out of physical education,
and 43 percent of states allowed individuals to meet the physical
education requirements by taking online physical education courses.
Also reported by AAPAR is that only 48.4 percent of schools offer
intramural activities, and many other programs are expensive for
parents. It is interesting to note that eight of the 10 states with
the highest obesity rates are in the south, as are nine of the 10
states with the highest rates of poverty.
NFL, Video Games, and Governors Make Strides
There is some movement forward in the states and schools, including
a boost in activity from private sponsors. Some examples:
- Video game consoles from Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 with Kinect,
and Sony PlayStation Move offer games that require physical
activity by players.
- The National Football League (NFL) and the American Heart
Association have teamed up to create the NFL PLAY 60 Challenge
(formerly What Moves U), a program that inspires kids to get the
recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day in school and at
home. When schools register to participate in the six-week
challenge, they receive details on how to sign up students and
ideas on how to incorporate physical fitness in the classroom
year-round. After participating in the challenge, the NFL will
continue to provide resources to help school leaders support
physical activity among students through the help of such
organizations as the Alliance for a Healthier Generations Healthy
- The State of Washington started the Washington Health
Foundation as part of the Healthiest State in the Nation campaign,
which holds an annual competitionthe Governors Health Bowl. This
competition targets fitness activity and health knowledge. This
campaign helped Washington rank no. 10 in 2010, with 40,000
individuals, 1,200 organizations, and 400 schools involved in the
program, which originally started in 2005.
Many schools are not serving healthy food. Lets continue to partner
together to create a better, more sustainable future for our
children and our communities. Focusing on our childrens lives and
health now can improve the nations bottom line in the long run. To
me, a good future for Americas children is priceless.
For more CDC stats:
Resources for Healthy Living
Lets Move: Americas Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of
Lets Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by First lady
Michelle Obama, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within
a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier
and able to pursue their dreams.
Partnership for a Healthier America
Partnership for a healthier america supports the First ladys lets
Move! program by encouraging, tracking, and communicating
commitments to healthier lifestyles from partner organizations.
Farm to School
Farm to school connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the
objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving
student nutrition, providing agriculture, health, and nutrition
education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.
Carol M. White Physical Education Program
The Carol M. White Physical education Program provides PeP grants
to leas and community-based organizations (cbOs) to initiate,
expand, or enhance physical education programs, including
after-school programs, for students in kindergarten through 12th
grade. grant recipients must implement programs that help students
make progress toward meeting state standards.
Healthy Schools Program
Produced by the alliance for a healthier generation, the healthy
schools Program supports more than 10,000 schools across the united
states in their efforts to create environments where physical
activity and healthy eating are accessible and encouraged.