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Pizza parties, candy and soft drinks - that's what teachers have routinely given their students as rewards for exceptional performance and behavior. It's been that way for years. And although local schools have made strides in providing healthier foods and eliminating some of the junk that students are exposed to, it is still very common for a "Student of the Month" or a child who has earned all of their accelerated reader points to receive those types of rewards.
But some local health professionals, such as Renee Schooling, a cardiovascular school nurse with the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, and Jessica Bickett, the health department's community and school registered dietitian, are concerned about the effect some of these practices have on the health of our children.
As a result they are encouraging school officials to make some changes, and we agree wholeheartedly.
We are encouraged by the fact that the Marion County Board of Education recently voted to create a wellness committee and is open to examining or creating wellness policies at local schools.
The health and well being of our children is something that we need to focus on, especially considering the increasing number of children who are considered obese. As part of their work, Bickett and Schooling track Marion County students' body mass index or BMI. Based on their findings, 44 percent of Marion County elementary students and 47 percent of middle school students are considered overweight or obese. All too often adults overlook or dismiss an overweight child. We even make up excuses for them, saying they are big boned or just haven't lost their baby weight yet. But, childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that can't be overlooked any longer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 12.5 million overweight children in the United States and they are at greater risk of serious health problems and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to the Office of the Surgeon General. Overweight children and adolescents are also more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that nearly 80 percent of overweight children between the ages of 10-15 were obese adults at the age of 25. Another study found that 25 percent of obese adults were overweight children, also concluding that if excess weight occurs by the age of 8 years old, the likelihood of being obese as adults is far more severe.
Obviously, the most effective way of treating and preventing childhood obesity is for the entire family to adopt healthier eating habits and make exercise a priority. It's truly a family matter, but schools can make (and in some cases already have made) a big impact on students by reinforcing good eating habits and encouraging physical activity.
But, as long as we continue to use junk food as a reward for certain behaviors we're in trouble.
Moreover, our children are in trouble.