Posts Tagged ‘ Childhood Obesity ’

Should Schools Calculate – And Share – Your Child’s Body Mass Index?

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Schools in 19 states are calculating each student’s Body Mass Index – BMI – and sending the information to parents. The point, of course, is to inform parents if a child is clinically obese – or getting to that point. 

There are a number of opinions about this practice. Elisa Zied has illustrated – in her The Scoop on Food blog – the pros and cons of this approach as a method for combating childhood obesity. We know we need to do something to bring down rates of obesity in kids. But is this approach worth pursuing?

I suggest it isn’t.

The reason is that providing information without suggestions for change is typically not influential. I attended an early childhood summit at the Boston Children’s Museum last spring, and it was clear that public health experts believe that parents need strategies for handling a range of complex issues that face them and their kids rather than facts and figures. Simply telling them that their child is obese, without providing real support and ideas for changing that picture, will probably not do much at all. And some worry it will only encourage poor self-image. Look at it this way. If a child is doing poorly in school, the report card that gets sent him lets the parent know that. But without any information about why the child is doing badly (Is the material too hard? Do they need a different study routine? Is there a possible learning disorder? Are they goofing around in class too much?), and without conversation between the school and parents about the next steps, that information does not typically lead to a solution.

Schools do have the potential to educate and influence parents as well as their kids. Rather than sending home a BMI score like it’s another grade, it would make sense to consider educational programs for parents and kids that take on the causes of obesity. They could share strategic information such as the types and amounts of food kids should be eating – and illustrate the caloric realities of fast food. They could provide suggestions for parents who are struggling to buy healthy foods because of the costs – and give them some real options for changing their kids’ diets. Genetics is part of the cause for some – some kids are just more prone to putting weight on easily – and the reality of that should be discussed. More information about how much exercise kids need – and how they should get it – should be part of the mix.

I’m not saying that schools should do this. But I’m saying that if schools want to play a meaningful role in combating childhood obesity, they will need to do much more than just providing a BMI score.

Body Mass Index via

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Why Recess Is Essential

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

As you think about what you want your kid’s school year to look like, keep in mind one essential: recess. Yes, it’s not just good, but essential. And there are lots of reasons why. 

In fact, studies have documented multiple benefits. One report identified a number of specific benefits of recess including:

  • Less Bullying
  • More Vigorous Physical Activity
  • Better Readiness For Learning

These specific findings highlight the broader deliverables of recess.

  • It gives kids more opportunities for unstructured interaction – which leads to better social integration and cooperative play
  • It ensures that kids get in some dedicated physical play time – which not only helps to combat the obesity crisis but also nurtures motor skills which have been shown to support cognitive development
  • It allows kids the breaks they need during their long day to do what they need to do (run around and burn off some energy) – which allows their brains the time and space to be focused and engaged as they transition back to the classroom

We live in an age where we are concerned with making education as rigorous and productive as possible. Given that, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the best ways to give kids a platform for daily learning is to make sure they have time for recess.

School Playground via


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Is “Clean Your Plate” A Recipe For Obesity?

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

There have been many suggestions that the parental practice of saying “clean your plate” – something many of us heard as kids – is part of the reason why so many kids develop the eating habits that lead to obesity. The reason? There are actually two – parents may be putting too much of the wrong kind of foods on the plate, and as kids get older they tend to eat what they are given (especially when encouraged to do so). Then throw in the typical promise of dessert if the plate gets cleaned, and you can see why it’s easy for kids to start overeating on a regular basis. 

So … how should parents rectify this pattern? I posed the question to registered dietitian Karen Avila – and founder of Healthy Karen - and we came up with these tips:

Help kids learn their own signals of when they are getting full – so don’t try to arbitrarily push kids to clean their plate.

Fill up their plate with the proper balance of food types and do encourage them to eat the balanced selection that is nutrient rich – and make sure they aren’t saving vegetables for last. Check out for lots of good advice and concrete tips on what the plate should look like.

Avoid all those unhealthy snacks before dinner time so that they will have an appropriate appetite that will make it easier for them to eat the composition of foods that should be on their plate.

So the big point really is that kids should be encouraged to eat the proper amounts of the right kinds of food. Working with your child to figure out the exact amounts that satisfy them and their nutritional goals is really the strategy – so instead of cleaning their plate (and being rewarded with more food) you will be teaching them to get in the habit of properly feeding their bodies.

Also check out these 5 healthy eating tips for more detailed information from Karen!

Empty Dish via




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Parent Stress And Childhood Obesity: One Obvious Link

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

There are times when you read about a new scientific paper that was just published and think (or say) something like: 

“Duh. Who doesn’t know this? I can’t believe that money was spent on that!”

Well, this may be one of those studies. But the thing about science is that we don’t get to just think something is one way or the other – we have to prove it. And when the data support what we think – whether or not it’s obvious – it’s a platform for action. So here we go.

A recent study in Pediatrics reported a strong statistical association between levels of parental stress and childhood obesity – more stress was associated with a higher risk of obesity. Part of the reason for this was fast-food consumption – higher levels of parental stress were associated with greater consumption of fast food and higher rates of childhood obesity. And keep in mind the researchers controlled for a whole bunch of other factors.

Now, we all know that when we are stressed, we might be more prone to eat what we shouldn’t. Some of this is psychological – we might crave something that isn’t exactly healthy. We might also be pressed for time – and hence want something fast. The point of this study is that if there is lots of stress – on a daily basis – this can become a habit. And this habit contributes to the obesity epidemic.

Okay, you might be thinking we all know this. Maybe – but this study provided data to support the idea. It could have been that stress is just something that happens to everyone, and those moments of junky eating when highly stressed isn’t what contributes to obesity. But it does. And here’s the other thing about human behavior – even though we know things, that doesn’t mean we are good about acting on that knowledge.

So here’s a good take-home message. Stress happens to everyone – and some people have a lot of stress in their lives. It’s important to try to keep healthy foods within reach. Having good snacks in the car can help stave off the fast-food stress response. Consciously making a healthy choice in a fast-food restaurant – for yourself and your kids – can help too. The obesity epidemic is a real thing, and these kinds of behaviors contribute to it. They become habits, and habits are not easy to break. But becoming mindful of the need to change these habits – especially when supported by scientific studies – is a good step in the right direction.

Fast Food via

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Does Your Toddler Get 3 Hours A Day Of Physical Activity?

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

New guidelines are emerging – around the world – that toddlers need at least 3 hours a day of physical activity, according to a commentary published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

As explained by Drs. Russell R. Pate and Jennifer R. O’Neill, up until recently national advisory boards have not made specific recommendations for kids under 6 years of age. However, given the increasing rate of weight issues in toddlers—it’s estimated that over 26% of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 years are either obese or overweight—there is a need for developing guidelines on physical activity. They pull on guidelines being offered in Australia, the UK, and via the Institute of Medicine, all of which focus on 3 hours as the minimum daily requirement for physical activity for toddlers.

To make this concrete, they cite a recommendation offered by the Institute of Medicine, which suggests that toddlers in child care get 15 minutes per hour of physical activity.

All of these suggestions don’t specify whether the physical activity is vigorous or moderate. But we all know what it looks like to see kids running and playing and moving. So the idea for parents is to have a look at your kid’s daily routine—both at home and when they are in any form of care—and determine if they are getting the proper amount of physical activity.

I want to bring particular attention to your child’s preschool schedule. There is a growing trend for reductions in preschool play time – drawn in part from perceptions by parents that their kids should spend their time learning “academic” skills and not running around and playing (click here to see a prior blog post on this topic published earlier this year). This is misguided in two ways. First, lots of new studies are showing how physical activity is associated with better school performance for a number of reasons (e.g., burning off some energy can help kids concentrate better, physical activity promotes motor development which is linked with cognitive development). And second, kids simply need physical activity to stay healthy and combat the obesity epidemic which continues to affect more and more kids at younger ages.

Toddler on playground via


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