In a recent article, “Fixing a World That Fosters Fat,” The New York Times tells us, “It’s the environment stupid.” And they have a point. While so much of the fight against childhood obesity is geared toward changing individual behavior – eat better, exercise more – these efforts are futile in an environment that makes following such advice difficult, if not impossible.
Since the average student spends 1,170 hours per year in school, it seems obvious that our schools should be fostering healthy eating habits and giving kids ample time to run around and play. But as Mrs. Q knows better than anyone, many school lunches are packed with sugar, carbohydrates, and empty calories—and astoundingly devoid of those things we’re always told are “good for us,” like fresh fruits and vegetables.
By the same token, as pressures to increase test scores only intensify, kids are being forced to sit for longer and longer periods of time. Despite overwhelming evidence that more physical activity actually increases children’s focus inside the classroom and can lead to higher test scores, P.E. programs and recess periods are getting slashed to make more time for the “serious” classroom subjects. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed are currently deprived of recess in their school day.
An alarming number of elementary schools don’t even have playgrounds! (Then again, if you don’t get recess, what do you need a playground for?) The Atlanta public school system is one of many that doesn’t include playgrounds or playground equipment when it builds elementary schools.
Childhood obesity trends have a lot to do with access—or lack thereof. If kids grow up in neighborhoods that are sprinkled liberally with fast food restaurants and convenience stores, it’s tough for them to eat well, no matter how many times they’ve been told that spinach is good for them. Likewise, if neighborhoods don’t offer safe, outdoor spaces to gather and play, there’s not much incentive for kids to get off the couch.
To effectively fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to fill these “food deserts” and “play deserts” with farmer’s markets and playgrounds. We need to fight for healthier neighborhoods AND healthier schools. The battle will be long and arduous, but standing up for healthy lunches, P.E. classes, and the reinstatement of recess is something we can all do now.
As kids head back to school, they have enough to think about. Let’s stop lecturing them and instead make being healthy a no-brainer.
If your child’s school doesn’t have recess, here are some tools to help you get recess reinstated.
If your child’s school doesn’t have a playground, here are some online tools and resources to help you build one.
To lobby for better lunches and healthier schools, here’s The Quick and Easy Guide to School Wellness
About the author:
Kerala Taylor is the Manager of Online Content and Outreach for KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children. Our mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities. Ultimately, we envision a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. Learn more at kaboom.org.
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6 thoughts on “Guest blogger: KaBoom!”
This is so on target for today. At least for me and my son. He's 8 years old and in the 3rd grade. His school changed a few things around this year. Some good, some bad, some mediocre. Recess this year is only 10 minutes long. Yes you read right, TEN minutes. What does that do for the kids? When I used to substitute teach it could easily take up to 10 minutes to get the kids all lined up and quietly down the halls to get outside for recess! If the emphasis is on increased learning time, I don't see the impact(as compared to 20 minutes of recess last year). The school also determined Mondays would be early release days (2 1/2 hrs) so that teachers could have more admin prep time(I know they can use it because most teachers I know do so much work on their own time anyway), but they start school 20 minutes earlier and end the day 5 minutes later than last year to accomodate that plan. On a more posative note, the school has redesigned their menu a little bit compared to last year. They're using more whole grains, have removed chocolate milk as an option and has begun using local produce. All posatives. Plus the fat and sugar content of the meals has decreased percentage wise from last year. But I guess if you are going to cut recess in half thereby reducing calorie burning opportunities, you'd better make adjustments in the number of calories/sugars/fats you put into our kids' bodies. (That being said, my son doesn't eat school lunches as he tells me he prefers the taste of homemade lunches).
One other thing that a lot of schools lack (at least in my neck of the woods) are bike racks. The elementary, middle, and high schools that my neighborhood attends all do not have bike racks. The roads are safe enough for riding, with perhaps an accompanying adult for the younger kids. But no, instead of burning calories getting to school, they're burning petroleum…
Anonymous, I haven't even thought of how kids might not be walking or biking to school anymore, but you bring up a good point! When I was in elementary school I always walked to school and back (at least by 1st or 2nd grade). I knew a lot of other kids rode their bikes. It wouldn't surprise me that today that kids don't do that anymore. I just started substitute teaching, and when I did 5th grade, I had to line up the kids that ride the bus, and then once they were gone, lined up the kids that had their parents picking them up in cars. No mention of walkers or bikers, but I wasn't even thinking of that at the time.
At least they got 30 minutes of recess, but since it had been raining, they had to have indoor recess because it was muddy outside. It's too bad too. I was looking forward to getting rid of them for a bit!
I volunteered with Kaboom in Detroit in August. It was amazing working with the school employees, the YMCA and volunteers from all over the area and of course Kaboom building a playground for the kids.
Thanks for the comments! I love any program designed to bring back recess. At my school there is no recess. It depresses me.
KaBoom bilked my company out of some cash and never came through on the day we were suppposed to build playgrounds for community service.
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