It's no secret that childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States. In fact, over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have tripled. Given the advancements in science and medicine during that same time frame, not to mention improvements in how schools educate children about eating and exercising properly, this is surprising and alarming. As rates continue to rise, what can we do to combat childhood obesity?
As an educator, I believe it's going to take a group effort. While the brunt will fall on parents, schools also play a large role in developing children who have a lifelong understanding of the relationship between a well-balanced diet, daily exercise and a healthy body. Schools must reinforce the benefits of exercising at least 30 minutes daily and why whole and natural foods are healthier than processed foods.
With fast food restaurants cluttering every Main Street across America, it's not hard to see why obesity rates continue to rise. As our lives get more hectic and we live on the go, go, go, fast food is often an easy and affordable alternative to preparing a meal or choosing a healthier option. However, if we're going to make an impact, it's up to the parents to make those hard choices and thus lead by example.
A primary obstacle that parents and schools face in helping children develop appropriate eating habits is that every child is unique — so the traditional school lunch menu that has two to three options may not be suitable to everyone's tastes. In order to really make an impact, if possible, dietary offerings should be tailored to the interests of each individual student.
At Fusion Academy & Learning Center Huntington Beach, we are considering the introduction of a lunch program with Chef by Request, to create a lunch menu that is ideal to our students' specific tastes. While this would be difficult for most schools to offer, there are still plenty of opportunities for traditional schools to assist students in identifying healthy menu choices that present long-term benefits.
Just as with eating habits, raising a child who develops an appreciation for daily exercise begins with identifying which exercises are of interest and best suited for your child. Introduce your child to a wide variety of activities to see what they enjoy doing. Whether it's walking, running, biking, hiking or something else, it will be far simpler to get your child exercising if it's something they enjoy doing. For schools, we too should cater to each student — not every student is going to enjoy volleyball or soccer. Ideally, schools should introduce exercise routines that target each student's specific interests, whether it's on campus or through a partnership with a local fitness club, which is what we are considering at Fusion Academy.
It's taken 30 years for the United States to get to where it is today with childhood obesity rates. I know that if parents and educators work together, it won't take another 30 years to significantly reduce those rates. By talking to children about the benefits of exercise and nutrition, providing encouragement and understanding what they like, and setting a good example to follow, we can make a substantial difference.
HOJJAT SANDI is director of student development at Fusion Academy & Learning Center Huntington Beach.