Begin the conversation about childhood obesity with your school by making an appointment to meet with the school nurse or guidance counselor. Take the time to find out what, if any, measures the school is already taking to combat childhood obesity. Have they cut back on offering sodas in the cafeteria? Do they have fitness options for kids who aren’t involved in organized athletics? Healthcorps set out to uncover how many steps kids were actually taking. They handed out pedometers to a school in New Jersey and it turns out they’re only getting 7,700 steps a day. This is far below the recommended amounts; girls need at least 12,000 and boys need 15,000 steps a day.
Whether your school is committed to offering healthy options or has yet to start a health initiative, it’s important to address the following:
Visit to the Cafeteria
At least once a day, your child eats a meal at school. Do you know what your child’s cafeteria looks like? How about what foods they serve? Ask to be taken on a tour of the cafeteria and take note of how the foods are arranged.
Shift Focus Away from Desserts
It can be hard for even the most health-conscious kid to resist the temptation of sugary treats if they are attractively displayed. Urge the school to help your child make the right choices at lunch by insisting that if desserts are being offered, they be less readily accessible than healthier options. Improving the availability of salads and whole fruit will help make it more appealing.
Increasing Fiber Options
Fiber is the number one thing you can add to your child’s diet to help fight and prevent obesity. Fiber helps the body digest and feel full faster. Most packaged foods don’t contain enough fiber and children need at least 25 grams a day. Petition the school to increase their fiber-rich offerings (i.e. fruits, carrots, celery, whole grain breads).
Outside the Cafeteria
Insist the school think beyond the cafeteria when developing health initiatives. If there are vending machines on or around campus, they pose as much of a threat to your child’s health as nutrition-free lunches. Children shouldn’t have unfettered access to super-sweet, non-nutritional snacks all day long.
Improving the appeal of healthy, nutritious foods may be as simple as improving their quality. If the produce at your school is looking less than fresh, find out if the district can get involved in a farm-to-school program, where farmers deliver fresh, local items to schools.