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The purpose of this study shall be to better understand the factors that contribute to obesity in high schools. High prevalence rates of obesity particularly among the high school age children in Florida schools is a cause for alarm and direct attention is needed to come up with effective strategies and programs to prevent or alleviate the problem.
This study seeks to assess the nutrition programs currently in place in the schools and the curriculum currently implemented. The importance of the paper is to address the significance of the issue of obesity today as well as come up with a feasible plan of action that can be implemented at the start of the next school year with a test school so as to alleviate the problem.
The information provided by the study shall be useful to parents, educators, policy makers and even the students themselves. By being more aware of the problems at hand, implementation of better practices shall follow so as to contribute to the overall wellness and development of the students. The results obtained from the study shall be quantifiable and shall assist in the quest to significantly reduce the rate of obesity among high school children in Florida.
Statement of the Problem
The health of high school students has declined over the past several years. Children who are obese are at increased risk of physical as well as psychosocial health consequences (Schetzina, 2009) Research indicates that the prevalence rate of obesity has actually increased over the past couple of years and statistics by the center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) show that according to the 2007 national youth risk behavior survey, 23% of US high school students were obese.
This was a notable rise from the 5% level in the 1980’s. Owing to the fact that obesity reduces the quality of life and shortens the lifespan of the person, it is of importance that solutions be developed to deal with this problem in our high schools.
Figure 1. Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 6-19
Note: from The National Association of State Boards of Eduction by Pekruhnk, C. (2009). Childhood Obesity: A School Health Policy Guide.
Obesity in Florida Schools
As with the other US states, Florida schools have also been caught up in the whirlpool of the obesity epidemic. Statistics from the CDC highlight that 22% (nearly a quarter) of all high school students are obese. These findings are further reinforced by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) of 2007, approximately 553,000 of 1.7 million Florida children aged between 10 and 17 were considered overweight. According to the BMI-for-age standards, 23% of this could be considered obese.
Causes of prevalence in obesity
While obesity can be as a result of differing reasons, Jelalian and Steele (2008) suggest that the very fact that the condition is mostly limited to people who overindulge in unhealthy food and exhibit limited activity may point to lifestyle issues being one of the chief causes of the disease. This may be the case in Florida high schools where obesity levels may be closely linked to the lifestyle adopted by the children.
In Florida, a new law allows high school students to graduate in three years by skipping Physical education classes (Jelalian & Steel, 2008; National Association for Sport and Physical Education and American Heart Association, 2006).
This clearly indicates the low priority that Physical education is given in schools. As a result of this, there are minimal opportunities for children to be physically active during school time and the Physical education classes are one of the first to suffer when budgetary cuts are necessitated in schools (Staveren & Dale, 2004).
Kelderman (2004) highlights the bleak reality that physical education classes are been squeezed out as increase pressure mounts for students to perform better in the examinable subjects. This combined with the raise in school expenditure has led to physical education taking a back seat of the child’s educational life.
Amongst high school students, unhealthy dietary habits are core to the increase in obesity among the students. In the school environment, many elements such as vending machines and the fast foods offered at cafeterias encourage unhealthy eating habits.
According to the CDCP (200), 20% of schools in the USA offer brand-name fast foods such as McDonalds to the children during the school day. In most cases, the attraction with these fast foods is that they take very little time to prepare which greatly appeals to the schools which are in most cases hard pressed for time.
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Additionally, junk food is relatively low priced compared to healthier meals which not only take longer to prepare but also cost more. However, the fast foods consumed contain trans fats which have been linked to increased risk of heart diseases and have also been grossly implicated other health conditions including obesity and diabetes (Keller, 2008).
It is for this reason that many nutrition experts recommend that Trams fats consumption be limited to trace amounts. In addition to this, fast foods contain contain exessive amounts of fats, sugars and cholestrol; all which are associated with obesity and heart problems. Fast foods are also known to be prepared from saturated oils that are mostly reused over a period of days thus making them vulnerable to bacteria
The overconsumption of soft drinks has also increased markedly thus further contributing to the unhealthy eating habits of high school students. Staveren & Dale (2004) assert that this phenomenon is mostly as a result of under funded schools making contracts with big companies to sell their brand of products to the school.
As such, schools have a vested interest in the promotion of the sale of these products (mostly beverages) as they receive a percentage of sales. Most schools therefore spot vending machines which are a principal source of extra money for the school.
In addition to this, there is the general lack of enough educational programs on balanced diet. School based programs can play an important role in promoting healthy eating lifestyle. This is because they play an important role towards reduction in obesity levels; most educators are oblivious of such programs.
The few who are aware fail to implement them due to lack of supportive structures from which to carry out the programs. The CDC (2009) highlights the need for provision of nutritional education guidelines to school-age youths so as to ensure that health lifestyles are adopted early in life and perpetrated all through adulthood.
Failure to deal with the issue of obesity among high school students can lead to a number of adverse effects. Studies indicate that obesity and overweight children impacts negatively on the child’s mental health and school performance (Jelalian & Steele, 2008). Obese students also suffer from exclusion from peer group activities and often experience discriminatory actions from adults (CDC, 2009).
This results in a high tendency by obese students to engage in unhealthy behavior and also exhibit loneliness and nervousness. These behaviors are not only negative to the child’s psychological well being but also his/her academic performance. As such, it can be seen that overeating which invariably results in obesity can lead to far reaching consequences on the child’s psychological welfare.
As has been stated, excessive body weight is unequivocally linked to fatal conditions such as strokes and may also lead to diabetes. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to claim that obesity is a killer disease. This is a view that is shared by the CDC who place obesity as second only to smoking in the preventable causes of early death.
Obesity also makes up a significant amount of the annual health care expenditure in the US. Six percent of the annual expenditure cost is utilized in dealing with obesity related health care issues. From this figures, it is evident that not only does obesity result in the degradation of the quality of life of the individual but also contributes negatively to the economy of the nation as a whole.
Solution and its Implementation
Having highlighted the magnitude of the obesity problem in Florida schools, it is obvious that a feasible solution is not only desirable but is the only way in which we can restore the health of the children and avoid future repercussions that may spring as a result of Obesity.
As has been articulated, most of the problems are as a result of the eating habits exhibited by the school children and the lack of physical education programs in the schools. As such, for any solution to yield favorable results, it must set out to tackle this two core issues of nutrition and physical education.
It has been extensively documented that the quality of food available in the schools in Florida is of low nutritional value and unhealthy as it is mostly made up of snacks, fast foods and sodas. Key to solving the obesity problem is an overhaul of the school nutrition program. For this plan to work, the support of the parents, policy makers and especially the staff at school would be most crucial.
This is because the funding of healthy eating programs is both expensive and would incur some resistance from supporters of vending machines and fast foods. A significant approach would be for the school to participate in the Federal Meal program. These programs adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) thus providing students with nutritious meals.
Pekruhnk (2009) reaffirms that these meals are reimbursable by the state thus greatly decreasing the price per meal making them much more affordable. All public and private schools are eligible to participate in this federal scheme. As such, the schools in Florida will be eligible to participate in this schemes; all that is required is for the School boards to apply to the state education agency for enrolment to this scheme.
The overreliance to corporate sponsors by schools also poses a significant threat to the success of the health food since most students will be inclined to go for the junk foods and sodas which are more attractive to the youth. Schools are in most cases forced to rely on the revenue they get from the large corporate sponsors due to poor funding by the federal government.
However, the health of the students must take precedence over this money making schemes. As such, sale of unhealthy foods in school must be all together stopped or else provisions must be put in place to set nutritional standards for these products.
Nutrition education can is also fundamental to the success of any obesity alleviation efforts. Schools should come up with policies that outline the provision of comprehensive, standards-based nutrition education that is integrated throughout the school curriculum (Pekruhnk, 2009).
The rationale behind this move is that even if students are obliged to take up health food choices in the school setting due to the programs in place, it will be of little help if they are not equipped to make health food choices outside of the school environment.
Teachers should therefore posses the necessary knowledge and comprehension of health education so as to teach the same to the students. This can be achieved by the use of seminars or certification courses on health education to enable the teachers to integrate this important information in their lessons.
Schools are a major influence in the life of the student and contribute greatly in implanting principles in the child’s life. As such, devotion of more educational time to teaching children sound nutritional principles may contribute greatly to the lifestyle choices that the students adopt. Schetzina et al (2009) suggests that the most effective means by which a culture of healthy eating can be ingrained in the minds of the students is if the learning process begins at the earliest possible state.
With this in mind, an incorporation of nutrition education at the elementary school level would lead to an early adoption of a health food habit thus reducing the risk of obesity even further. An important consideration in early education is that children in elementary school will in most cases fail to understand the implication of abstract concepts such as “nutritional content of food”. Focus should therefore be put in actual experiences of increased exposure to the healthy foods.
Continued advocacy for the schools in Florida to improve on the physical activity opportunities for the children should be one of the goals in order to reduce obesity. The discussions above showcased that physical education has taken a back seat due to either lack of funding, time or both.
Teachers should advocate for a physical education curriculum all through the grades. Research indicates that physically active students are more likely to be motivated, attentive and successful academically (Pekruhnk, 2009). As such, the commonly held notion that PE is a waste of time that could have been used reading should be dispelled. Physical education classes should be consistent and regular and inclusive of all the students.
Implementation of the above mentioned solutions can take part in a phased approach.This is important since it will give the other schools an opportunity to witness the working of the program and therefore eliminate opposition. Proposals to better the plan can also be made from the pilot school.
Once the school has been picked, a survey should be carried out as to the obesity level before the implementation of the solutions. The plans should then be implemented starting with the revitalization of the school’s nutrition program, education of the teachers and reintroduction of physical education in the school.
In a term, there should be a notable difference between the test school and the other schools. As a result of this, the proposed program can be tailor made and adopted by additional schools so as to ensure the reduction of obesity in our schools.
This paper set out to highlight the plight of obesity in our high schools. The discussions forwarded have indicated that obesity is mostly as a result of the lifestyle choices that we make. The school setting has been observed to mostly favor an unhealthy lifestyle with the lack of emphasis on physical education programs and the large-scale embrace of fast foods, junk and sodas; all which increase the calorie count.
In order to recover from this problem, the paper has made some proposals which include adoption of healthy eating programs, education on nutrition and an enhancement of physical activity levels especially through Physical education
While it is conceivable that this changes will come at a cost, the solutions will result in the improved health of the students which will be beneficial to their educational efforts on the short run and improve the quality of their lives in the long run. In addition to this, these efforts will lead to a healthier nation thus decreasing the cost of health care incurred by the government. An obese free high school can thus be declared to be not only beneficial to the students in particular but also to the nation as a whole.
Jelalian, E & Steele, G.R. (2008). Handbook of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity. Springer.
Kelderman, E. (2004). Childhood Obesity: States Neglect Phys Ed. Web.
NSCH (2007). Childhood Obesity epidemic in Florida. Web.
Pekruhnk, C. (2009). Childhood Obesity: A school Health Policy Guide. National Association of State Boards of Education.
Schetzina, K. E. et al (2009). Developing a Coordinated School Health Approach to Child Obesity Prevention in Rural Appalachia. Rural and Remote Health 9: 1157.
Staveren, V. T. & Dale, D. (2004). Childhood Obesity: Are Schools Partly to Blame? Eastern Connecticut State University.