The cheap, colorful way cities are trying to fight childhood obesity

July 31, 2014, City Lab

By Aarian Marshall

The United States has a well-known childhood obesity problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of the nation’s children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. The percentage of obese children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled over the past three decades, from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012.

But some cities, designers, and child health advocates think they have a solution—at least a small part of a solution. And the best news for cash-strapped schools and governments is that the solution is cheap.

In the language of playground design, “ground markings” are shapes, pictures, or games drawn onto the surfaces of play areas. These include readymade hopscotch squares, giant maps, and big circles to leap between. Continue reading

New resources from Bridging the Gap and CDC highlight local school wellness policies

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Bridging the Gap program, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently released a new set of resources highlighting opportunities to support wellness policies through evidence-based strategies. These briefs provide an assessment of policies across school districts nationwide, related to seven wellness policy components. They also highlight areas of opportunity for state agencies, school districts, and schools to strengthen wellness policy components. See all seven topic area briefs plus a methods document below. Continue reading

School gardens grow kids’ physical activity levels

March 20, 2014, Cornell Chronicle

By Ted Boscia

To get school children moving, uproot them from classrooms into school gardens, concludes a two-year Cornell study of 12 elementary schools in five New York regions.

By experiment’s end, kids at schools with gardens were moderately physically active at school for 10 more minutes a week than before their schools had gardens. That was an increase of four times what peers experienced at gardenless schools. What’s more, children who gardened at school were substantially less sedentary at home and elsewhere than their counterparts.

With nearly one in three American children overweight or obese, school gardens could be a simple, low-cost way to get kids more active, said environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

She presented the findings March 11 at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Conference in San Diego. Continue reading

Rich or poor, schools fall short on providing physical activity

Jan. 17, 2014, Medical Xpress

By Milly Dawson

Schools in wealthier areas are more likely to have a physical education (PE) teacher on staff than are schools in poorer areas, but students in both wealthy and less affluent areas are coming up short with regard to physical activity, finds a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

“Children receive many important benefits from physical activity, benefits that aren’t limited to health,” said author Jordan Carlson, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego. Carlson said that beyond strengthening children’s bodies, physical activity improves concentration, classroom behavior, and achievement.

The researchers used data on 172 students at 97 elementary schools in San Diego and Seattle. Socioeconomic status (SES) of the schools was classified as low, medium, or high based on the percentages of children receiving free meals. Children in the study wore devices that measured minutes of physical activity during school hours. Continue reading

Food options near schools may up obesity risk

Nov. 9, 2013, MedPage Today

By Rita Buckley

The number and kinds of food outlets near schools may be associated with higher rates of obesity among public school students, according to new research.

Data for nearly 13,000 middle and high school students in 33 public schools in New Jersey showed that nearly 25 percent of the students were obese compared to the national average of 17 percent, according to Xuyang Tang, M.S., from Arizona State University, and colleagues.

They found that an added 0.1 mile in the distance between a school and a healthy food outlet increased body mass index (BMI) z score by 0.0111 (P<0.01), and raised the probability for obesity by 0.4 percent and for overweight or obesity by 0.5 percent. In addition, a 0.1 mile increase in the distance between a school and the nearest convenience store led to a 0.05 rise in BMI z score, they reported at the American Public Health Association annual meeting. Continue reading

Equipment, encouragement gets kids active during recess

Oct. 24, 2013, The Baltimore Sun

By Allison Bond

Providing children with sports equipment, encouragement, and a safe environment boosts their activity level during the school day, according to a recent study from Australia.

Researchers found that simple steps such as making sure elementary school students have bats and balls to use during recess or asking students to stand up between classes boosted physical activity during recess by as much as 40 percent.

“We all know that physical activity is important, especially with the growing obesity epidemic,” Dr. Vandana Madhavan, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health. “This study looks at multiple ways to increase activity in the school setting.” Continue reading

If you offer it, they will drink it

May 16, 2013, dailyRx

It’s no secret that drinking too much Coke or Gatorade can add inches to kids’ waistlines. But where they get those drinks might make a difference in how much they drink them.

A recent study found that children were much more likely to drink more sugar-sweetened beverages if they got them at school or at home.

Kids were three times more likely to drink five or more sugary drinks each week if they had access to the drinks at school.

The researchers concluded that limiting access to sugary drinks might be one component in preventing obesity.

The study, led by Lana Hebden, a research officer at the School for Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, looked at how many sugar-sweetened beverages school students drank. Continue reading

Gym class isn’t just fun and games anymore

Gym class isn’t just fun and games anymore
Feb. 18, 2013, The New York Times

By Montoko Rich

On a recent afternoon, the third-graders in Sharon Patelsky’s class reviewed words like “acronym,” “clockwise,” and “descending,” as well as math concepts like greater than, less than, and place values.

During gym class.

Ms. Patelsky, the physical education teacher at Everglades Elementary School here, instructed the students to count by fours as they touched their elbows to their knees during a warm-up. They added up dots on pairs of dice before sprinting to round mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. And while in push-up position, they balanced on one arm and used the other (“Alternate!” Ms. Patelsky urged. “That’s one of your vocabulary words”) to stack oversize Lego blocks in columns labeled “ones,” “tens,” and “hundreds.” Continue reading