How Can Schools Help to Tackle Childhood Obesity?
Obesity is an unfortunate side effect of modern Western culture. This unfortunate epidemic has now been an issue for decades, and as sad as it is in adults, who are responsible for their own bodies, it is significantly sadder for the children who fall under the bracket of childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a problem that grows with every passing year, which defies logic considering how aware we are of the problem and how many resources we have at our disposal in the Western world. It affects not only the personal lives of our children but also has a huge impact on the social and economic health of our country. Unfortunately, so engrained are the habits and behaviours that have led to this epidemic, that there is no single-solution fix. Changes must come from the grass roots, but how do we make that happen?
Why Is Childhood Obesity Still A Problem?
So, here are the plain facts. Two thirds of adults in the UK are classified as obese, one third of 11-15 year olds and one quarter of 2 – 10 year olds also fall under the obesity bracket. Research also tells us that around 60% of overweight or obese children go on to retain their overweight status as an adult. This means that the percentage of overweight adults will continue to increase exponentially if nothing significant is done to tackle the problem. It is predicted that 70% of UK adults will be obese by the year 2034, that, taking the population projection for the UK into account, is around 45 million people.
This is a complex problem. There are many nuances as to why people end up becoming obese. But some of the main reasons are as follows…
We are lucky to be part of one of the most affluent countries on Earth. In fact, we are somewhere in the top 10! Whereas food used to be consumed simply as fuel, eating food is now a hobby. Restaurants have only become mainstream in the last half century, as we live in a time and a place where everyone now has some kind of disposable income.
Our work is making us gain weight. In the last century, the jobs market has shifted away from professions that require physical exertion. We simply move less than we used to. Call centres have replaced factories and robots have replaced people, so we just burn off less energy in every day activities than we used to.
The food we buy in the supermarket is more geared towards profit and convenience than actual nutrition. The additives, fats and sugars present in much of our everyday food is there so that it tastes better and lasts longer… this is not necessarily great for our bodies. Food products aimed at kids are packaged in bright colours to attract them, and are pumped with sugar to ensure they ask for them again!
Our modern entertainment preferences are also less physical than in years passed. Where outdoor games and sports were the most popular recreations in the 1950’s, we now favour stationary pastimes such as gaming or watching movies.
This is a problem for many reasons. First of all, child poverty in the UK is on the rise; over 4 million children now live in relative poverty. Cheap food is designed to fill tummies, but rarely has a balanced nutritional value, which is why poverty has a direct effect on obesity. Also, school budgets are getting squeezed tighter with every year that passes, this often means that schools are having to cut funding for food provision. It used to be that, in poverty-stricken areas, school would be a lifesaver, as it would provide children with at least one balanced meal a day. This is becoming a thing of the past.
Social and Economic Consequences of Childhood Obesity
The knock-on effects of obesity to our wider society are numerous. Essentially our obesity problem not only strips the resources and provisions we have to deal with the issue currently, but it also skews our demand for various products and services. And what does demand create? Supply. Which in turn creates money. For many industries, the food industry being one, obesity works in their favour, financially. However, it puts money strapped organisations such as the NHS under strain. The NHS spent over £5 billion on illness caused by obesity last year. This is unacceptable, as obesity is generally adopted and not genetic… it is entirely preventable and curable through lifestyle.
The culture and acceptance around obesity, although it promotes body positivity, is also creating a societal attitude that being overweight is acceptable. However, overweight people are statistically more likely to have to take time out of the workforce, less likely to motivate themselves to learn and get out into the world and more likely pass on their health and fitness behaviours to their children.
Personal Consequences of Childhood Obesity
Physical health is the most obvious consequence to being overweight as a child. But being overweight does not just equal a child who is soft around the edges and gets a bit puffed out going up the stairs, it can lead to a myriad of long and short term medial conditions: Health Risks Of Childhood Obesity
An unhealthy heart and under-nutrition impacts your child’s education dramatically. An unhealthy cardiovascular system means that the heart must work harder to pump blood into the brain, and therefore brain function is not as effective in overweight children. Early childhood is a crucial developmental time, if the body and mind are not functioning well, then the child is missing the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Social and Confidence Issues
In a world that is more image influenced than ever, it is very common to become obsessed with the body. If you do not have to body that social media says you should have, then this can have an enormous impact on your confidence and body image. This has always been an issue, but the pressure on young people to project a certain image is bigger than it has ever been, and obesity has now been clearly linked with the last decade’s rise in adolescent suicidal behaviour.
How Can We Help to Combat Childhood Obesity?
In schools, we may not have access to the structures, finances or physical resources that we should do in order to change the direction of the obesity issue. However, there are things we can do right now to change the thinking and culture around food, over eating and body image.
We can find ways to educate our children about the importance of eating well, staying active and the dangers of being overweight. This can be done in specific PSHE lessons but should also be addressed in the way you run your classroom on a day to day basis. Make sure your students are making wise food choices. Implement rules about what snacks they bring in. Discuss the topic when it can be linked to another lesson you are teaching; science, cooking or P.E for example. These little things can add up to a lot!
We must also find ways of making sure parents are aware of the importance of diet, health and fitness. This means having the courage to speak to parents in specific cases and making sure that your school’s policy when it comes to combatting the issue is well known. This can be communicated through newsletters, events, meetings and social media.
If you are the decision maker when it comes to the food your school produces, how much do you know about it? There are many up and coming models and philosophies for school kitchens that are ensuring children are fed a balanced diet, whilst managing to keep to budget. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what your kitchen produces?
Keep your students active. This doesn’t have to mean more P.E lessons. Just try implementing regular activity into the day. Perhaps a daily walk around the school? Perhaps quick classroom activities between lessons. Hey, some schools even implement 10 minutes of yoga into every day! Get creative. What would get your class up and moving?
What Do You Think?
We want to hear from you. Do you have any questions about the issue of childhood obesity? Even better, perhaps you have some ideas and solutions you would like to share. Here at PencilStreet we are a community, and we want to encourage you to share your knowledge. So, get in touch with us. You can comment on this post, or, if you are a member, you might even want to upload an idea or resource. We will be revisiting this subject later this year, and we’d love to share what you have to say on the subject.
By Chris Thomson