- HHS releases follow-up report on increasing physical activity among youth in the United States
- New report rates food and beverage companies on their nutrition-related policies and practices
- School district wellness policies: Evaluating progress and potential for improving children's health five years after the federal mandate
- Office of Disease Prevention seeking public comment on its strategic plan
- Exercise may help protect children from stress
- Pre-packaged foods too salty for young children
- State laws aimed at improving school meals help teens eat more fruits and vegetables, new study finds
- Kids who exercise are less likely to have fractures in old age
- Short-term exercise might boost young people's self-control
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
- U.S. childhood obesity fight sees some success
- After years of recess erosion, schools try to get kids moving again
- Candymaker pledges to fight obesity
March 13, 2013, NCCOR
A newly available pilot tool, the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture, represents an innovative approach to obesity prevention that compasses architecture, schools, and science.
Creating school food environments that support healthy eating among children is a recommended national strategy to prevent childhood obesity, and is shown to have positive effects on student behavior, development, and academic performance.
To help children learn life-long healthy eating habits, researchers developed the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture which provides practitioners in architecture and public health as well as school system administrators with a practical set of spatially organized and theory-based strategies for making school environments more conducive to learning about and practicing healthy eating behaviors.
These guidelines were implemented in a pilot project at Buckingham Elementary School in Dillwyn, Va. The project focused on using the design of the school building itself to promote healthy behaviors and long-term attitudes of healthy eating and physical activity.
“The entire building is a classroom,” said the project’s Dr. Matthew J. Trowbridge, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Every aspect of the school architecture — the furniture, color pallet, and materials — was designed to promote healthy behaviors. This project is the first of its kind and represents a brand new way of thinking about childhood obesity prevention.
“A kid is a kinetic, excited entity, and many of the design decisions that have been implemented here, including all the way down to the furniture choices are meant to let the child move,” said Trowbridge, also a major contributor to NCCOR’s green health activities.
The pilot tool is expected to evolve and be refined as its components are tested and evaluated through public health and design research. The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines were published online Feb. 28 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
On March 8, 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a five-year follow-up report to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth provides recommendations for increasing physical activity levels of American youth across five key settings: Schools, Preschool and Childcare, Community, Home, and Healthcare. Key findings from the report include:
- Increase opportunities for physical activity in schools. Offer students "enhanced physical education" opportunities with lesson time from well-trained specialists and instructional practices that provide more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Provide classroom activity breaks, activity sessions before or after school, and opportunities to walk and bike to school.
- Offer more opportunities for preschoolers and children in childcare centers to be active. Increase the time they spend outside, give them play equipment such as balls and tricycles, provide trained staff to lead physical activities, and increase the time kids get to do these kinds of things.
- Change the built environment. Improve walking and biking infrastructure, such as sidewalks, multi-use trails, and bike lanes. Increase access and proximity to parks.
- Continue to advance research of youth physical activity interventions. More research needs to be done to study the long-term effects of physical activity interventions, determine specific intervention strategies to increase youth activity, and assess the impact of policy and programs on physical activity in children.
A new report released March 13 from Access to Nutrition Index calls for food and beverage manufacturers to increase access to nutritious products and positively exercise their influence on consumer choice and behavior. The report, Access to Nutrition Index Global Index 2013, assesses the nutrition-related commitments, performance, and disclosure practices of 25 of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers as measured against international guidelines, norms, and accepted best practices. Key findings include:
- The highest scoring companies have clear commitments, detailed policies, and measurable targets related to nutrition. They have also charged senior executives with achieving these targets and provided incentives for them to do so.
- Companies’ practices often do not measure up to their commitments. Companies are missing key opportunities to implement their commitments in core business areas such as product formulation, marketing, and distribution.
- Companies are not meaningfully engaged in addressing undernutrition and could better leverage their expertise, skills, and scale to help combat this global health challenge.
School district wellness policies: Evaluating progress and potential for improving children's health five years after the federal mandate
This new report from Bridging the Gap examines the latest data on wellness policies from nationally representative samples of school districts for each year, 2006-2007 through 2010-2011. The report shows trends and comparisons in policy provisions, e.g., school meal guidelines, competitive food and beverage guidelines, physical activity goals, and other federally required provisions, that were in effect during the 2006-2007 and the 2010-2011 school years. It also includes new data on wellness policy reporting requirements and a comparison of districts' competitive food and beverage guidelines with the 2007 Institute of Medicine (IOM) nutritional standards for foods in schools.
The Office of Disease Prevention (ODP), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is currently seeking public comment on the development of its strategic plan for the next five years.
The mission of the ODP is to improve public health by increasing the scope, quality, dissemination, and impact of prevention research supported by NIH. The goals and objectives presented in the final strategic plan will outline the priorities for ODP and highlight the role of the Office in advancing prevention research at NIH.
Respondents are encouraged to review and provide comments on a set of draft strategic priorities. Specifically, ODP would like input on measurable objectives for each priority and benchmarks for gauging progress. Respondents can also provide recommendations on steps ODP could take to improve processes NIH uses to solicit, review, and administer prevention research grants and cooperative agreements.
Respondents may include, but are not limited to, prevention researchers in academia and industry, health care professionals, patient advocates and advocacy organizations, scientific or professional organizations, federal agencies, and other interested members of the public.
Organizations are strongly encouraged to submit a single response that reflects the views of their organization and membership as a whole.
Though the initial date for closing comments was April 14, 2013, it has been extended until April 30, 2013.
March 8, 2013, The New York Times
By Jan Hoffman
Physically active children generally report happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active. Now researchers may have found a reason: By one measure, exercise seems to help children cope with stress.
Finnish researchers had 258 8-year-old boys and girls wear accelerometers on their wrists for at least four days that registered the quality and quantity of their physical activity. Their parents used cotton swabs to take saliva samples at various times throughout a single day, which the researchers used to assess levels of cortisol, a hormone typically induced by physical or mental stress.
There was no difference in the cortisol levels at home between children who were active and those who were less active. But when the researchers gave the children a standard psychosocial stress test at a clinic involving arithmetic and storytelling challenges, they found that those who had not engaged in physical activity had raised cortisol levels. The children who had moderate or vigorous physical activity showed relatively no rise in cortisol levels.
Those results indicate a more positive physiological response to stress by children who were more active, the researchers said in a study that was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The children who were least active had the highest levels.
“This study shows that children who are more active throughout their day have a better hormonal response to an acute stressful situation,” said Disa Hatfield, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island, who was not involved in the study.
Dr. Hatfield noted that the study did not control for sugar intake, which has also been associated with higher levels of cortisol. And as the researchers themselves noted, the wrist-born accelerometers could not accurately measure certain activities like bicycling or swimming.
Michael F. Bergeron, a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Dakota and executive director of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute, cautioned that chronic levels of cortisol might be a better measurement of a child’s propensity toward stress rather than the single-day measurements taken in the new study.
“A single response to a single stressor may be what the body needs to do, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said.
Although elementary schools in the last decade have generally been supportive of physical education, only 29 percent of high school students meet the national guideline of 60 minutes a day, said Russell R. Pate, a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, who has worked on national studies of fitness levels in students.
“It’s not a huge surprise that kids who are encouraged to be more active would be more relaxed,” he said.
In a school, a child who gets more activity on a daily basis, Dr. Hatfield said, will respond better to everyday stressors like tests and social challenges. “The study suggests the physiological reason: it may be because their hormonal response is different,” she said.
Pre-packaged foods too salty for young children
March 22, 2013, Red Orbit
By Brett Smith
On average, Americans like their food salty, but it is an affinity that often results in conditions like hypertension and heart disease.
A new study from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that many pre-packaged children’s food may be giving the youngest Americans an early start when it comes to eating salty foods. They may also be giving these young kids an early start on lifelong health issues as a result of too much sodium in their diet.
A survey of over 1,100 food products for babies and toddlers found that 75 percent of those products were too high in sodium, according to recommended daily amounts.
“Our concern is the possible long-term health risks of introducing high levels of sodium in a child’s diet, because high blood pressure, as well as a preference for salty foods may develop early in life,” said lead researcher Joyce Maalouf from the CDC. “The less sodium in an infant’s or toddler’s diet, the less he or she may want it when older.”
The CDC researchers considered the food product too salty if it contained over 210 milligrams of sodium per serving. They found that toddler meals tended to contain more sodium than infants meals, with some containing as much as 630 milligrams per serving. These servings contain the equivalent of 40 percent of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommended daily allowance of sodium.
Federal guidelines suggest a limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, while the AHA recommends even less – 1,500 milligrams. Previous surveys have shown that Americans typically consume 3,400 milligrams each day, more than twice the AHA daily limit.
In commenting on the study in a web video, AHA spokesperson Linda Van Horn recommended that parents start their child on a more natural and less processed diet.
“The taste for sodium is a learned behavior: We know this to be true,” she said. “The more sodium you eat, the more sodium you want. As you initiate that palate, you start teaching a child that a higher sodium intake is normal, expected, etcetera – instead of what can be done very effectively by providing foods that are in their natural state, lower in sodium, and teaching that child to appreciate the actual flavor of the food.”
Maalouf added that attentive and aware parents should be able to select healthy food for their young children if they simply pay attention to what they buy.
“Parents and other caregivers can read the nutrition facts labels on baby and toddler foods, to choose the healthiest options for their child,” she said.
In a comment about the study to CBSNews.com, Andrea Rumschlag, a pediatric dietician at Cleveland Clinic, said the study will help to raise awareness about the sodium content in children’s food that may have previously gone unnoticed.
“It’s good information for parents to see that packaged food in any way, shape or form is always going to be high in sodium,” said Rumschlag, who was not involved in the CDC study.
She said that although the AHA recommend 1,500 milligrams as a daily allowance for sodium, small children between the ages of 1 and 3 should have no more than 1,000 milligrams per day.
State laws aimed at improving school meals help teens eat more fruits and vegetables, new study finds
March 12, 2013, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Teens in states that required schools to offer fruits and vegetables as part of the meal program consumed more fruits and vegetables than those living in states with no such policies, according to a study published March 12 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The difference was most pronounced among teens who regularly ate school meals and had only unhealthy snacks, such as cookies, chips, and cake, available at home. This study is one of the first to suggest that school-based policies can help mitigate barriers to healthy eating that some teenagers face at home.
To conduct the study, researchers compared students in California and Mississippi, where state law requires high schools to provide a minimum serving of fruits and vegetables in school meals, with students in 25 other states that did not have such standards. When researchers looked specifically at teens who regularly consumed school meals and had only unhealthy snacks at home, they found that those living in California and Mississippi ate 0.45 more cups of fruit and 0.61 more cups of vegetables on average per day than did students in the other states.
“This study suggests that schools can help level the playing field for families who can’t afford or don’t have access to healthy foods,” said Daniel Taber, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study. “We found that strong laws—those that give specific requirements for improving school meals—have the potential to help teens eat more fruits and vegetables, especially when they’re not getting those foods at home.” Taber is a co-investigator with Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which funded the study.
The authors also found that teens ate more fruits and vegetables when such foods were available at home. Specifically, teens who never had access to fruits or vegetables at home consumed about 0.98 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, while those who always had access consumed about 2.83 cups per day.
The study revealed other less encouraging trends:
- Overall, teens were not eating enough fruits or vegetables to meet recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This was true among all the students in the study—on average teens consumed 1.2 cups of fruit and 0.9 cups of vegetables per day.
- The presence of unhealthy snacks at home influenced teens’ intake of fruits and vegetables. Students who always had access to unhealthy snacks at home consumed 1.15 cups of fruit and 0.74 cups of vegetables per day, while students who never had access to unhealthy snacks consumed 1.5 cups of fruit and 1.34 cups of vegetables per day.
- Across the entire study sample, consumption of fruits and vegetables was lowest among black and Hispanic teens.
The researchers examined state laws and students’ dietary intake in spring 2010, about two years before new school meal standards issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) went into effect.
Starting in fall 2012, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program were required to provide daily servings of fruits and vegetables in school meals. The new meal standards are part of a larger effort to improve the quality of foods in schools nationwide. In February 2013, USDA issued a proposed rule for school snacks and drinks. That rule is open for public comment until April 9 and once in effect, it will set nutrition standards for the foods and beverages schools sell outside of meals, in vending machines, à la carte lines, and other locations.
“These findings confirm that the new school meal standards are a step in the right direction and show us how critically important it is for schools to offer healthy foods,” said C. Tracy Orleans, Ph.D., senior scientist at RWJF and a National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research steering committee member. “What we need now is a strong national standard for school snacks and drinks, because what’s sold outside of the lunch line shouldn’t undermine the progress that schools are making to offer better meals.”
The study, “State Laws Governing School Meals and Disparities in Fruit and Vegetable Intake,” analyzed dietary intake among 9,574 students in grades 9–12 using data from the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study that was collected in spring 2010.
March 25, 2013, TIME
By Alexandra Sifferlin
It turns out that strengthening bone to avoid fractures starts at a very young age.
Physical activity, such as the exercise children get in school gym classes, is important for fighting obesity, but the latest research suggests it may help to keep bones strong as well.
For six years, researchers from Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden, followed 808 boys and girls ages 7 to 9 who were asked to participate in 40 minutes of physical activity daily during school. The scientists recorded the children’s skeletal development, and documented any reports of fractures and compared these results with those of a similarly aged control group that completed 60 minutes of physical activity over a week.
Reporting at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day in Chicago, the researchers found that during the study period, children in the group that exercised daily reported 72 fractures, while those in the control group recorded 143 fractures.Those who were physically active for 40 minutes a day also showed higher bone density in the spine compared with those who did not exercise as much. Bone density is an indication of bone strength, and the denser bone density is early in life, the stronger bones remain decades later, when natural thinning of bones weakens the skeleton and increases the risk of fractures and breaks.
To correlate these results with fracture risk later in life, the researchers also studied 708 former male athletes in their 60s and 70s and compared their fracture rates and bone-density scores with those of healthy men of the same age who had not been trained at an elite level. The former athletes showed a smaller rate of loss in bone density on average than the nonathletes, suggesting that their bones were better able to avoid fractures.
“According to our study, exercise interventions in childhood may be associated with lower fracture risks as people age, due to the increases in peak bone mass that occurs in growing children who perform regular physical activity,” lead author Dr. Bjorn Rosengren, of Skane University Hospital, said in a statement. “Increased activity in the younger ages helped induce higher bone mass and improve skeletal size in girls without increasing the fracture risk. Our study highlights yet another reason why kids need to get regular daily exercise to improve their health both now and in the future.”
The results confirm previous findings on the benefits for bone of regular exercise. One study found that compared with sedentary women, those who are the most active have the highest bone density and lowest risk of the bone-thinning disorder osteoporosis. Bones become more porous and brittle with age, as cells responsible for building bone become less active and can no longer keep up with the cells that destroy and remove old bone cells. Physical activity can shift this balance toward maintaining a healthy amount of bone growth, say experts.
While fractures aren’t typically a problem for young children (unless they have a major fall), it’s never too early to start protecting against the future risk of bone problems. “With the current knowledge, we ought to recommend training in young years as a strategy to prevent fragility fractures at old ages,” the authors wrote in the study. Just one more reason for children to trade in the TV for a few laps around the track.
March, 6, 2013, HealthDay
By Alan Mozes
Short bouts of moderately intense exercise appear to improve the self-control of youngsters and young adults, a broad review of existing research suggests.
The Dutch analysis of 24 prior studies highlights the potential mental health benefit for people [ages] 6 to 35 years old who engage in a half-hour cycle or run, for example, but it remains unclear how long the positive effects last.
And whether repetitive training programs spread out over weeks or months might have a similar impact on youthful inhibitions also remains an open question.
"There were too few studies looking into the effects of long-term regular exercise to really know what the impact is, but the effect of short-term exercise is clear," said study lead author Lot Verburgh, a doctoral candidate in the department of clinical neuropsychology at VU University in Amsterdam.
"Tests conducted immediately after short bouts of exercise showed a clear improvement among higher order functions like self-control, a cognitive [brain] function that is really important for daily activities in terms of both social life and academic performance," said Verburgh.
The association, gleaned from 19 studies involving 586 participants, is discussed in the March 6 online issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The findings could have relevance for treating disorders associated with impaired inhibition, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, according to the study.
The authors noted that past research has indicated that moderate exercise can positively affect mental function among older adults. Walking, for example, has been associated with improved memory and attention skills among otherwise sedentary seniors, they explained. For this project, the team looked at studies conducted through 2012 that focused on three age groups: 6 to 12 years, 13 to 17 years, and 18 to 35 years.
Nineteen studies concerned the effects of acute — or short — bouts of moderate exercise. Such workouts might elevate heart rate to about 60 percent of maximum capacity and could include 10-40 minutes of cycling or running, for example. Twelve of these studies specifically assessed the impact of acute exercise on self-control.
Only five studies examined the impact of chronic — or routine — exercise, and the results were inconsistent.
The bottom line: While unable to draw any conclusions regarding chronic activity, the team found that short bouts of exercise did seem to boost self-control across all three age categories, a lift that could give still maturing younger brains a leg up in social, academic, and sports related settings.
What lies behind the apparent exercise driven inhibition boost?
"A higher order function like self-control, or inhibition as we say, is located mainly in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. It may be that the effect we see is due to an enhancement of blood circulation in the brain," explained Verburgh.
"And that would lead me to think that if you want to have an effect that's long lasting, you would probably have to exercise regularly and often," Verburgh added. "But if that's true or not remains unclear."
Ali Weinstein, an assistant professor and deputy director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., suggested that the lack of clarity regarding the impact of long-term chronic exercise is a big sticking point in "a very interesting analysis."
"Exercise has traditionally been linked to many health benefits: cardiovascular, weight control, lower cholesterol, (and) lower risk for some cancers," she said. "However, less research has investigated the more 'mental' health benefits of exercise." …
Original source: http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=674180
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
U.S. childhood obesity fight sees some success
March 7, 2013, Reuters
By Susan Heavey
U.S. companies and other groups that have made attempts to reverse the nation's rising childhood obesity rate are starting to see results as more American kids exercise and have better access to healthy foods, they said on March 7.
More than 1,700 U.S. cities have promoted exercise to get nearly 3 million more kids moving in the last year, according to a report by the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit that works to get private companies and organizations to pledge specific action to fight the weight epidemic.
Still, if left unchecked, about half of all Americans will be obese by 2030, according to the group, whose partners range from Darden Restaurants Inc. and Walmart Stores Inc. to the YMCA and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Some health advocates welcomed the findings but said more effort was still needed, including government action.
Already, one in three U.S. youth are obese and another third are overweight. Experts are worried because heavier children are more likely to remain overweight as adults, and suffer a higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.
"We're seeing pockets of progress toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "For progress to reach every corner of our country, we must redouble our efforts: Parents, schools, nonprofit organizations, government at all levels, and the private sector." Childhood obesity carries significant healthcare related costs and even poses national security risks, experts say, by reducing the pool of those fit for military service.
Some of the partner companies have pledged to change food offerings on restaurant menus or work to get more children into activities like soccer or tennis, according to the group, which released the report as part of its annual conference in Washington that also headlined first lady Michelle Obama.
The group has said it wants to help 10 million Americans gain access to healthier foods, saying 23.5 million people in the United States — including 6.5 million children — have no nearby access to options like fresh produce or cannot afford to buy it.
Already, 141 grocery stores have been built or renovated in so-called "food deserts," often low-income urban neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores, helping more than a half-million people, it said.
"In places like Philadelphia, New York City, and Mississippi — places where folks from every sector are working together — we've seen childhood obesity rates begin to come down," said Obama, who has made tackling obesity her signature issue while in the White House. Fruits and vegetables, meat, and other whole foods can often be more expensive than processed ones that contain subsidized ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup.
Some health experts have been critical of the food industry for offering unhealthy products. Manufacturers have long pointed to consumer choice, but many have begun to change their offerings in recent years as more U.S. consumers become health conscious.
Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, another honorary vice chairman and a Democrat, told MSNBC the annual progress report is important for holding companies accountable to their commitments to change.
On March 7, several more companies joined the partnership, including GE Healthcare, part of General Electric Co., and Cerner Corp., among others.
After years of recess erosion, schools try to get kids moving again
March 22, 2013, Yahoo! News
By Liz Goodwin
At 9:30 a.m. sharp on a Tuesday morning, all 1,200 elementary school students at PS 166 in Queens, N.Y., stood up and began doing jumping jacks in unison with a Beatles song blaring over the loudspeaker.
In Ms. Dianna Chappell’s third-grade class, some kids began panting near the end of the required two minutes. One boy even stopped jumping momentarily, doubling over in exhaustion. “Oh come on! I’m much older than you!” Chappell yelled, as she continued jumping.
When the session was over, several sweaty students asked permission to go to the water fountain.
“We’re 15 weeks in and they’re still struggling,” joked PS 166 Principal Jessica Geller “You’ll hear a lot of heavy breathing.” The number of out of shape kids at PS 166, an ethnically diverse, lower-income New York City public school, isn’t unusual. Just 4 percent of elementary schools in the United States offer daily physical education classes, according to a 2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As part of her Let’s Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity, first lady Michelle Obama has encouraged schools to incorporate short exercise breaks into the school day, and to make recess and physical education a priority.
Obama and other advocates point to a growing body of research that shows physically fit kids are better students, and that physical education can reduce behavioral problems in the classroom.
“The fitter you are, the better of a student you are,” said John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of “Spark,” a book about the connection between exercise and mental ability.
At PS 166, Geller cobbled together $5,000 in grants from New York City’s education department and other sources to institute regular two-minute physical activity bursts every morning, which the school calls “brain breaks.” Teachers are also trying to add another 15 minutes of other exercise, particularly Tai Chi movements, as a way to compensate for the school’s infrequent recess, which leaves some of the children restless and antsy.
The recess yard at PS 166 is a small concrete area outside that can only fit about three classes at once, which forces the school to limit outdoor recess to just once a week for the kids.
First-grade teacher Leonida Waxman said she thinks using Tai Chi and other brain breaks has improved behavior in her class.
“We definitely need to be more active,” Waxman said. “There’s more and more time devoted to academics. They sit and work and read and write all day long.”
Some of Waxman’s students said the Tai Chi motions help them focus. “My favorite is moving the clouds,” said Max, a first-grader, referencing the Tai Chi arm waving motion. “When you’re really restless you can do that move and it helps you calm down.”
Ratey said short brain breaks are “better than nothing,” but that ideally students should be getting an hour a day of physical activity. National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel attributes the decline in gym and recess in schools to an increased, federally mandated focus on student test scores that began with the No Child Left Behind law of 2001, as well as budget cuts.
“We very much support the idea of putting P.E. back in schools,” Van Roekel said of the membership of the nation’s largest teachers’ union. He added that some schools have been forced to cut back in order to increase time for drilling students on reading and math. “It seems like they’ve forgotten kids are more than test scores,” Van Roekel said.
Ratey says the tradeoff is ultimately self-defeating, since physical activity boosts academic performance. “They’re doing what they think is best, but what actually is happening is that they’re eliminating a very important part of their curriculum,” Ratey said.
While encouraging more physical education in schools, the Obama administration has also continued to stress the importance of standardized testing — encouraging states to tie teacher performance ratings in part on student test scores. Education advocates argue it is the best way to bring accountability to schools and ensure students are learning.
One low-income public school in South Lawrence, Mass., has experimented with building its entire curriculum around physical activity without decreasing the time students spend in class. At the 5th Grade Academy, students get two hours of physical activity each day, including a 20-minute recess, to break up their 80-minute blocks of academic classes. But in order to fit in all the exercise, the school has had to expand to an eight-hour day, stretching from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Thomas Bean, one of the founders of the school, said he believes attendance and academic performance have improved dramatically at the school since they expanded the day and added exercise. Nearly 90 percent of the students at the school receive free or reduced school lunch, and Bean said many struggle with obesity.
Bean said he hopes the school’s model can be expanded to other schools — a tricky proposal, since extending the day requires teachers and staff to be paid more.
“The kids know they’re part of something special, that our program is different,” Bean said.
Candymaker pledges to fight obesity
March 5, 2013, ABC News
By Liz Neporent
With soda taxes and proposals to limit super-size sweetened drinks already sweeping the nation, candy could be the next target in the war against obesity. There's an inkling that candy manufacturers suspect this and are taking steps to head off future regulation.
Speaking at last week's National Confectioners Association meeting in Miami, Debra Sandler, the president of Mars Chocolate in North America, tried to rally major candymakers to come up with ways to help solve the obesity crisis before government forces step in and force them to.
As first reported by the candy trade publication Confectionery News, Sandler said in her speech, "If we don't [act], I worry that someone else will do it for us. ... We need the whole industry to step up. ... We are not judged by the leaders of the category but by those who do not take responsibility for change."
Calls and emails to Mars Inc. and the National Confectioners Association by ABC News seeking comment were not immediately returned. Americans do seem to have an insatiable appetite for sweet treats. We consume more than 7.7 billion pounds of candy each year — about 25 pounds per person — according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 60 percent of that total is from chocolate, with gummy bears, chewing gum, and a wide variety of other non-chocolate confections making up the remainder.
As Sandler noted in her speech, candy only accounts for 2 percent of calories in the average American diet. But she warned against using this low percentage as an excuse to skirt the issues, urging manufacturers to fight excess calorie consumption by displaying calorie content more prominently on the front of the packaging and reformulating recipes for lower-calorie counts and better nutrition.
Sandler's remarks have received praise from some surprising places. "Mars has been making an effort to be more responsible in how they market candy. It's good to see them calling on their colleagues to do the same." said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Wootan said that Mars was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which included a provision that required foods served in schools to meet specific U.S. Department of Agriculture standards — meaning candy had to be removed from campuses.
Mars has also had one of the strongest policies against marketing its products to children, agreeing not to advertise directly to children in most media, Wootan said. Other large candymakers, such as Nestle and Hershey, have adopted similar policies.
Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University's Dyson School and author of the book "Mindless Eating" agreed with Wootan. He said it's tempting to be cynical of a "Big Candy" campaign to fight obesity, but anything companies do to help consumers eat less is a step in the right direction.
"If they do some smart things that make it easier for consumers to eat healthier, they may also expand their markets and increase profits. Regardless of their intensions, that's a win-win for everybody," he said.
Wansink said he thought changes to packaging would be effective because many consumers tend to take a categorical approach to their diets. "My studies show people often come up with one or two hard-and-fast rules in their diet, such as vowing not to eat candy under any circumstances," he explained. "This often backfires, because they skip the candy in favor of a bagel that has even more calories than a candy bar, or they make up for it later by eating a piece of cake or a really large dinner."
By offering smaller portions, lighter calorie alternatives and resealable bags, candymakers would allow people to indulge their sweet tooth without forcing them to commit to 300 calories or more in one sitting, Wansink said.
While Wootan applauded these kinds of suggestions, she said she wished candymakers would go further.
"I'd like to see them remove candy from the checkout aisle, which is really just a way to manipulate people to buy candy they don't want and regret eating afterward," she said.
She said she also suspected shrinking candy bar sizes would do little good if they still come in giant bags, especially if the bags are decorated with cartoon characters that beckon to children.
In her speech, Sandler expressed worry over the fact that dozens of states have considered imposing sweeping "fat" taxes to curtail consumption of the sweet stuff. There is increasing evidence they could be effective: A survey of nearly 30 international studies published in the British Medical Journal found that a 20 percent tax on sugary beverages would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 percent. And findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine estimated that an 18 percent tax on pizza and soda would lead to a 5 pound weight loss per year for the average American.