PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
- Strong nutrition education can lead to healthier food choices by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients
- CDC releases collection of articles from Communities Putting Prevention to Work awardees
- Healthy food financing toolkit now available
- Parent-only programs may also help obese children
- Diabetes drug won't help obese kids keep off weight
- School 'nutrition report cards' spur healthy choices
- Study: As cost of sugary drinks go up, sales go down
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
- USDA allows more meat, grains in school lunches
- Bad eating habits start in the womb
- These days, school lunch hours are more like 15 minutes
- To get kids exercising, schools are becoming creative
Jan. 6, 2013, NCCOR
After decades of increases, there are finally signs that childhood obesity rates are declining across the United States. For the past five years, the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) has been at the center of research and evaluation work to turn the tide against the epidemic.
In celebration of its five-year anniversary in February, NCCOR is launching Connect & Explore, an external webinar series for researchers, practitioners, and others interested in conducting or applying childhood obesity research.
Join us at 2 pm, Eastern, on Thurs., Feb. 13, for Connect & Explore: Five Years of Accelerating Progress Through Childhood Obesity Research, the first of three webinars planned this year. The other two webinars in our 2014 series will take place on June 12 and Oct. 9.
In just under an hour, we will learn about the priorities of national funders, explore opportunities to get your work funded, and get you "caught up" on what counts.
- Learn about NCCOR’s accomplishments over the past five years and its vision for the future.
- Get introduced to new funding opportunities from those who helped shape and support the funding announcement.
- Explore research tools that can help you with your work.
- Learn about significant research and the latest publications.
- Hear from leading experts in real time.
- Understand how to engage with NCCOR through our e-newsletter and social media.
“In addition to keeping researchers informed on NCCOR-led activities, NCCOR members strive to enable the work of their colleagues and advance the field,” said NCCOR Project Director Todd Phillips.
NCCOR’s breadth of website resources and monthly e-newsletter are informative and useful, and “this series will be a valuable, efficient, companion piece,” Phillips said.
The Collaborative will solicit feedback after each webinar in order to shape future webinars and maximize attendees’ time. All webinars will be recorded and archived on www.nccor.org.
This event is free but attendance is limited so tell a friend and register today! Please also consider sharing this information on your social networks using the hashtag #Connect&Explore. We will also be live tweeting th event so be sure to follow the conversation at @NCCOR.
To receive the webinar access information, you must register for this event:
The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) brings together four of the nation's leading research funders – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – to address the problem of childhood obesity in America.
PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
Strong nutrition education can lead to healthier food choices by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a study providing clear evidence that well-designed nutrition education programs can lead to healthier food choices by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The study, “SNAP Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II),” evaluated the impact of several nutrition education programs on fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income elementary school children and seniors. The study found that children participating in certain nutrition education programs increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption at home by a quarter-cup to a third-cup, and were more likely to choose low-fat or fat-free milk.
The study demonstrates that effective nutrition education programs, like those supported by the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, or SNAP-Ed, can impact SNAP participants’ willingness to try, buy, and eat more healthy foods. The program, which was recently updated though the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, emphasizes evidence-based, outcome-driven interventions, with a focus on preventing obesity and coordinating with other programs for maximum impact and cost-effectiveness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) journal Preventing Chronic Disease (PCD) is dedicated to reporting practical scientific research, programs, and policy efforts to improve the health of communities. These articles advance current knowledge and contribute to the welfare of people beyond the interventions they describe. The publication groups together previously published articles related to specific topics and themes. Most recently CDC has created a collection of previously published articles from Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) awardees. The collection includes an essay on the retail food environment by Latetia Moore, a member of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).
Voices for Healthy Kids, a collaboration between the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recently released a new healthy food financing toolkit that contains facts, sample materials, and guidance on how to build, engage, and mobilize a social change movement to improve access to healthy foods in states or communities across the country.
Dec. 9, 2013, Reuters
By Shereen Jegtvig
The gold standard for treating childhood obesity currently involves using a family-based approach in which both parents and children attend meetings on losing weight. A new review of past studies suggests parent-only meetings may work just as well.
"Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue in developed and in developing countries and we need to set the course as early as possible," Hannah Ewald told Reuters Health in an email.
Ewald, the study's lead author, is a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Basel, Switzerland. "Being chronically ill can be a heavy burden but the physical aspect is just one side of the coin," she said.
"When I see overweight children being teased for their weight, when I see them panting instead of laughing when chasing each other around on the playground or when I see look in their faces — it always gives me a sting."
Utilizing a parent-only approach to address kids' weight might be cheaper and less embarrassing for children, David Janicke told Reuters Health in an email.
Janicke, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., has studied parent-only interventions for childhood obesity but was not involved in the new review.
He said parents might also find it easier to focus on and participate in a program without the child present.
The researchers reviewed papers on eight prior or ongoing studies. In all of the studies, families of overweight and obese children were randomly assigned to different weight-loss interventions.
Five of the studies compared group programs for parents with interventions targeting both parents and kids. Two compared parent-only to child-only interventions. In the remaining study, some of the parents and their children met separately and then together. Programs for parents included diet and nutrition education, plus information on physical activity.
The parent-only interventions were at least as effective in promoting weight loss among kids as the combined parent-child interventions, if not more so, according to findings published in the Journal of Public Health.
However, more families dropped out of the parent-only interventions.
Ewald's team suggested that could be due to parents feeling overwhelmed by taking on the responsibility of their children's weight problems.
But Janicke said parents are put in charge of their children's health in parent-child weight-loss programs, as well. "In gold standard behavioral family interventions that include children with their parents, the parents are taught to utilize the same skills as parents in the parent-only interventions and are still encouraged to take primary responsibility for making family wide changes," he said.
"A child that is given the sole responsibility for its weight is unlikely to succeed in gaining a healthy weight," Ewald said. "How to eat healthy, how to exercise properly, and how to deal with the emotional side are difficult topics to tackle even for adults. That is why the parents (or caregivers), who have the biggest impact on the child, need to understand their part in the process."
The results should be interpreted with caution, the researchers said — in part because most of the studies they looked at were small. Janicke said he is not aware of any clinics or organizations that currently take a parent-only approach to children's weight loss.
"One potential challenge to these programs is that in my experience with our intervention research studies, some parents are hesitant to sign up for programs or treatments in which their child does not attend the program with them. Some say that they want their child to be able to socialize with similar children," he said.
"Other parents have expressed that they cannot get their child to change, and they want their children to learn about making lifestyle changes from professionals," Janicke said.
"From our experience, once parents attend the parent-only programs, they have been very happy with the process and outcomes," he said.
Dec. 17, 2013, Fox News
By Rachael Rettner
Few children who become obese are able to lose and keep off weight with diet and exercise alone, leading some doctors to prescribe drugs, such as the diabetes drug metformin, to treat childhood obesity. However, a new study suggests that metformin may not help kids and teens without diabetes lose weight over the long term.
The study, which reviewed information from previous research, found no evidence that children and teens who took the drug lost more weight after one year than those who did not take the drug.
While some adolescents who took the drug did experience short-term weight loss (six months or less), the effect was modest, and it is not clear whether such limited weight loss would actually improve their health, the researchers said.
Given the current evidence, metformin has not been shown to be superior to other weight-loss treatments for kids, such as diet and exercise, the researchers said.
"Unfortunately, this drug is not going to be the answer," said study researcher Marian McDonagh, of Oregon Health & Science University. Overall, the drug does not appear to provide enough weight reduction for children to experience meaningful health benefits in the long term, McDonagh said.
Still, it is possible that certain groups of children, such as those who are very obese, may benefit from taking the drug. A large study is needed to identify these groups, the researchers said.
The study analyzed information from 14 previous studies (eight in the United States and others in Canada, Australia, Mexico, Europe, Iran, and Turkey), which included a total of 946 children aged 10 to 16 years who did not have diabetes. The children's body mass indices (BMIs) ranged from 26 to 41. In most studies, children who took metformin also engaged in lifestyle changes aimed at helping them lose weight.
On average, children who took metformin for six months achieved a 3.6 percent greater reduction in their BMI compared with those who practiced lifestyle changes alone.
However, studies in adults suggest that, in order for a weight loss treatment to lead to meaningful improvements in health down the road, it needs to reduce BMI by 5 to 10 percent, McDonagh said.
Children in the studies who took metformin for a year saw about the same decrease in BMI as those who practiced lifestyle changes alone. And after one year, both groups started to slip back to their original weight.
The researchers would like to see more studies on weight loss treatments that involve a child's entire family. It's possible that family-based interventions may help children lose more weight whether they are taking a drug or not than interventions that do not consider the child's family, McDonagh said.
Metformin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat children and adults with type 2 diabetes.
The new study was published Dec. 16 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Dec. 11, 2013, Medical Xpress
By Blaine Friedlander
Step away from that ice cream sandwich: Point-of-sale technology may help students eating in school cafeterias refrain from devouring junky frozen treats, flavored drinks, and potato chips when their parents receive "nutrition report cards."
"This pilot study underscores that a nutrition report card is feasible and efficient. … Although the results are preliminary, they suggest that [nutrition report cards] may be helpful in nudging children toward more healthy, less expensive options … at little cost to the school district," according to Cornell behavioral economists Brian Wansink and David Just.
Many school districts use a POS, or point-of-sale, payment system, where the food is keyed into a smart cash register. Students use a specialized debit-card, so the system knows the name of the student. For example, if a student buys hot lunch and an ice cream sandwich, the cash register records the purchases. Parents would sign up to receive an electronic nutrition report card weekly or monthly detailing what their child eats.
The researchers found that after receiving nutrition report cards, some parents adjusted family dinner meals to include more nutritious food, and some parents used the opportunity to discuss the importance of health and nutrition with their kids. Other parents learned why the child's cafeteria money account was depleted so rapidly.
Students whose parents received the nutrition report cards selected fruits and vegetables more frequently, and they selected flavored milk less frequently than the control group.
After the research, in open-ended responses, parents expressed appreciation for knowing what their children ate. One parent responded: "I like seeing the snacks they purchased. It made me understand why my one son was always out of money on his account."
Nutrition report cards have the feature of engaging parents in their child's decision-making process. This could be especially beneficial to younger children, who are learning to make independent food decisions and can be guided by concerned parents, say the researchers.
The study, "Nutrition Report Cards: An Opportunity to Improve School Lunch Selection," was published in PLOS ONE in October 2013. Richard W. Patterson, Cornell doctoral candidate in policy analysis and management, and Laura E. Smith, Cornell doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences, were co-authors with Wansink and Just.
Nov. 14, 2013, USA Today
By Nanci Hellmich
People bought fewer sugary drinks when the price was higher than no-calorie or low-calorie drinks.
Raising the cost of high-calorie beverages by a few cents — and highlighting calorie content in places where they are sold — decreases sales, a new study shows.
This research comes after much discussion in recent years about trying to combat the nation's obesity crisis by adding extra taxes to the cost of sugar-sweetened beverages, sometimes called a "soda tax."
Researchers at Harvard conducted a study in the cafeteria of a financial services company. They increased the price of high-calorie beverages (those that contained 150 calories or more per container), mostly soda, lemonade, whole chocolate milk, and some juices, by $.01 cent per ounce.
The price of low-calorie beverages (45 to 149 calories) and zero-calorie beverages stayed the same. So a 20-ounce bottle of a high-calorie drink cost 20 cents more than the same-sized container of low-calorie or zero-calorie beverages.
"We chose this amount because this is what public health experts say might be used as a tax on sugary beverages," says Jason Block, the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
The increased price resulted in a 16 percent decline in sales of high-calorie beverages, says Block, who reported the findings at The Obesity Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta.
In the second part of the study, Block and colleagues arranged beverages in columns based on their calorie content in the coolers where they were sold. Researchers put signs on the cooler at the top and bottom for each of the three types of beverages and listed the calorie range for each one. Result: High-calorie beverage sales decreased by 11 percent.
"Both increasing the price of higher-calorie beverages and changing how we displayed them had a similar effect on decreasing sales of these drinks," Block says.
Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and one of the nation's top experts on beverage consumption, says, "This (price) study is consistent with other research which shows that people are responsive to small price increases of $.01 or $.02 cents per ounce in sugar-sweetened beverages and will reduce their consumption of them.
"When it comes to beverages, there are many choices that are far better than any type of soda. I prefer Americans drink water or unsweetened or lightly sweetened coffee or tea," he says.
Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and a proponent of soda taxes, says, "This is an important study because it documents the level of benefit likely to occur with public policies on taxing and labeling foods. It is strong support for the public benefits of a soda tax in particular."
But Chris Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association, an industry group, says, "People do not support taxes on soft drinks, and they understand that taxes will not do anything to address obesity. That is why the public policy debate has moved on from taxes and onto real solutions.”
"We are already putting the full calorie count on the front of all our packaging, and on vending machines, too. We are empowering consumers to make the choices that are right for them, and providing them with an array of beverage options."
In yet another study, Block and colleagues labeled foods and beverage items in a hospital cafeteria with traffic-light colored labels: Green for the healthiest foods based on their calories and content of fat, sodium, and sugar. Foods with the worst nutrition content had red labels. Yellow foods were in between.
Initially, the program increased sales of healthiest items across all categories including beverages, side dishes, and entrees, but the effect dwindled over the course of a year, he says. "We saw no change for the red-labeled entrees or drinks. They didn't decline, and red side items, such as french fries, increased," he says.
"People made initial changes that wore off over time," Block says. "Changing eating habits is hard. To make a sustained change, there has to be a continued focused effort on both the part of the retail establishment and consumers."
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
Jan. 3, 2014, USA Today
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making permanent rules that allow schools to serve larger portions of lean meat and whole grains in school lunches and other meals.
Guidelines restricting portion size were originally intended to combat childhood obesity, but many parents complained their kids weren't getting enough to eat. School administrators say that rules establishing maximums on grains and meats are too limiting and make it difficult to plan daily meals.
The department eliminated limits and on meats and grains on a temporary basis more than a year ago. On Jan. 2 officials made the rule change permanent.
The change was announced by Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at USDA.
He says the department has delivered on its promise to give school nutritionists more flexibility in meal planning.
Dec. 1, 2013, The New York Times
By Kristin Wartman
The solution to one of America’s most vexing problems — our soaring rates of obesity and diet-related diseases — may have its roots in early childhood, and even in utero.
Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia, have found that babies born to mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet while pregnant and breast-feeding are more open to a wide range of flavors. They’ve also found that babies who follow that diet after weaning carry those preferences into childhood and adulthood. Researchers believe that the taste preferences that develop at crucial periods in infancy have lasting effects for life. In fact, changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.
“What is really interesting about children is, the preferences they form during the first years of life actually predict what they will eat later,” said Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist and researcher at the Monell Center. “Dietary patterns track from early to later childhood but once they are formed, once they get older, it’s really difficult to change — witness how hard it is to change the adult. You can, but it is just harder. Where you start, is where you end up.”
This may have profound implications for the future health of Americans. With some 70 percent of the United States population now overweight or obese and chronic diseases skyrocketing, many parents who are eating a diet high in processed, refined foods are feeding their babies as they feed themselves, and could be setting their children up for a lifetime of preferences for a narrow range of flavors.
The Monell researchers have identified several sensitive periods for taste preference development. One is before 3.5 months of age, which makes what the mother eats while pregnant and breast-feeding so important. “It is our fundamental belief that during evolution, we as humans are exposed to flavors both in utero and via mother’s milk that are signals of things that will be in our diets as we grow up and learn about what flavors are acceptable based on those experiences,” said Gary Beauchamp, the director of the Monell Center. “Infants exposed to a variety of flavors in infancy are more willing to accept a variety of flavors, including flavors that are associated with various vegetables and so forth and that might lead to a more healthy eating style later on.”
There is another reason these exposures have a lifelong impact, he said: “This early exposure leads to an imprinting-like phenomenon such that those flavors are not only preferred but they take on an emotional attachment.”
This puts babies fed formula at a disadvantage because the flavors in packaged formula never change. But according to Ms. Mennella, the opportunity to expose those babies to a range of flavors is not lost. “Just because you are formula-fed, it is not hopeless,” she said. “Babies learn through repeated exposure, so the more varied the diet, the more likely they will be to accept a novel food.”
Another recent study conducted at the FoodPlus research center at the University of Adelaide in South Australia found that exposure to a maternal junk food diet (defined in the study as any food that was energy dense, highly palatable, and had a high fat content) results in children with a preference for these same foods. In a rodent model, the study found that being exposed to too much junk food in utero and through breast milk leads offspring to develop a reward pathway in the brain that is less sensitive than normal. Mothers who were fed foods like Froot Loops, Cheetos, and Nutella during pregnancy had offspring that showed increased expression of the gene for an opioid receptor, which resulted in a desensitization to sweet and fatty foods. “The best way to think about how having a desensitized reward pathway would affect you is to use the analogy of somebody who is addicted to drugs,” Jessica R. Gugusheff, a Ph.D. candidate at FoodPlus and the lead author of the study, wrote in an email. “When someone is addicted to drugs they become less sensitive to the effects of that drug, so they have to increase the dose to get the same high,” she wrote. “In a similar way, by having a desensitized reward pathway, offspring exposed to junk food before birth have to eat more junk food to get the same good feelings.”
Ms. Mennella at Monell has also done research on reward pathways for sweetness and has found that sweet flavors have an analgesic effect on babies and children such that babies will cry less and children will leave their hand in a cold water bath for longer periods with sweet flavors in their mouths. Ms. Mennella has also found that in obese children, while the level of sweet they prefer is the same as that of normal-weight children, sweet flavors are not as effective as an analgesic. “I hypothesized maybe it is because of some disruption in the opioid system, so maybe they need more sweet to get the same effect,” she said.
These research studies call into question the ethics of marketing poor-quality foods to children as well as the marketing of infant formula.
In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of mothers breast-feed exclusively for six months, with rates significantly lower for African-American mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breast-feed exclusively for at least six months and then continue some breast-feeding as they introduce solid foods for the next six months. The World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding up to age 2 years or beyond.
But infant formula is a booming billion-dollar industry with three companies controlling almost 98 percent of the market: Mead Johnson, maker of Enfamil, Abbott, manufacturer of Similac, and Nestlé (now Gerber), maker of Good Start.
Functional foods, or foods that allegedly deliver nutritional benefit beyond what is available in natural foods, are a food industry creation to convince consumers that their products are superior to, or can replace, natural, whole foods. Globally, infant formula is the fastest growing functional food; the market is on track to grow by nearly $5 billion in 2013 alone.
But formula is only part of the problem since breast-fed babies of mothers eating too many refined and processed foods are also at risk. Claims by the food industry that personal responsibility, exercising more, and eating less are the solutions to obesity and diet-related disease are turned on their head with these studies. If babies are developing food preferences in utero and before 2 or 3 years of age through no fault of their own, how can we then blame them when they become obese children and adults?
If we hope to reverse the tide on obesity and diet-related disease in America, regulating processed food products and infant formula, and creating clear warning labels to deter parents from feeding their children potentially harmful foods may be our best shot. Let’s make sure future generations have the best chance to become healthy adults.
Dec. 4, 2013, NPR [The Salt Blog]
By Eric Westervelt
It is lunchtime at Oakland High School in Oakland, Calif., and that means fence hoppers. Several kids wear mischievous grins as they speedily scale a 12-foot-high metal perimeter.
In theory, anyway, Oakland High is a "closed campus." That is done in the interest of safety and security and to cut down on school-skipping. It means kids cannot leave during school hours without parental consent, especially at lunchtime. But it does not stop several students from breaking out.
Inside the cafeteria the lines are long, and complaints about the food are as plentiful as the fence jumpers.
Today's lunch is "popcorn chicken," potatoes, and tamales. A plastic bowl with little packets of carrot sticks looks lonely. The food is dry and burned, says freshman Mary Thomas. "It is just nasty."
And junior Olivia Moore says the lines leave little time to actually eat and socialize.
"I need more time because I eat slow and then, there's not enough free time," Moore says.
The school lunch hour in America is a long-gone relic. At many public schools today, kids are lucky to get more than 15 minutes to eat. Some get even less time.
And parents and administrators are concerned that a lack of time to eat is unhealthful, especially given that about one-third of American kids are overweight or obese.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students get at least 20 minutes for lunch. But that means 20 minutes to actually sit down and eat — excluding time waiting in line or walking from class to cafeteria.
At Oakland High, over 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And officially, students get about 40 minutes for the meal. But Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District's nutrition services director, admits that the actual table time is far shorter. At times it is just 10 minutes.
"I think it's a legitimate complaint that there is not enough time to eat," LeBarre says. "If we are being asked to eat our lunch in 10 minutes, that is not enough for us. So I really think we need to really work more for the 20-minute table time."
Oakland High is hardly alone. In a wide-ranging new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 20 percent of parents of students from kindergarten through fifth grade surveyed said their child only gets 15 minutes or less to eat.
Ironically, relatively new federal school-nutrition guideline changes may be making the situation worse. Under federal rules, schools have to increase the availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables — among other changes. It's part of an effort to improve nutrition and combat childhood obesity.
But eating more healthful foods can take more time, LeBarre says. "It is going to take longer to eat a salad than it will to eat french fries."
At many schools, lunch schedules are not changing. Julia Bauscher, who is president of a national advocacy group called the School Nutrition Association, says administrators are under intense pressure to increase instruction time and boost standardized test scores. The lunch period is often the first place they look to steal time.
"[They have] got to get in this many instructional minutes, and this is our expected annual yearly progress on the test," she says. "You have got two important and competing priorities there."
Exacerbating the time crunch, nationally, is the reality that more students are taking part in the free or reduced-cost school lunch programs. Many schools are now adding free dinners as well under a new U.S. Department of Agriculture dinner program launched this year. Bauscher is also the nutrition services director for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. She says in her area, 70 percent of the students are participating in meals programs — including free dinners for some.
"We have got a higher number of students eligible for free and reduced meals than ever. So as more of them take advantage of those programs, you get longer food lines," she says.
Some possible solutions — such as adding lunch periods, more food stations or service workers, or lengthening lunchtimes — can be costly. And many budget-strapped schools today simply do not want to risk the added price.
Nicola Edwards of California Food Policy Advocates says parents need to be central to any solution. Parents cannot effectively preach to kids about healthful food and quality lunchtime, she says, and then model grabbing something unhealthful on the go.
"Parents need to be modeling good eating behaviors, and not shoving food through the window in the back of the car as they are on their way to work or to school," Edwards says. "Part of helping people is really making them understand the importance of eating and taking the time to eat. "
Dec. 10, 2013, NPR [Shots Blog]
By Maanvi Singh
Avery Stackhouse, age 7, of Lafayette, Calif., says he wishes he had more time for physical education.
"We just have it one day a week — on Monday." There is always lunch and recess, he says. "We play a couple of games, like football and soccer," he tells Shots.
But at Happy Valley Elementary, where he goes to school, recess lasts only 15 minutes and lunch is 45. Between eating and mingling, he says, "there is only a few minutes left where we play games and all that."
Fifty-six percent of parents say their elementary school kids are getting just one or two days of physical education (P.E.) a week, according to a poll NPR conducted in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Fewer than one in five parents with children in kindergarten through fifth grade said their kids were getting P.E. daily. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Kindergarten through fifth grade students get at least 150 minutes a week. Physical activity has a lot of benefits, from reducing obesity to helping kids do better academically.
Louisiana State University's Russ Carson, an exercise researcher, tells Shots the poll results don't surprise him. "This has been going on for years, unfortunately," he says. School administrators can only fit so many things into a day, and often, he says, "testing and other aspects of education take precedence over P.E."
More and more, Carson says parents and educators are starting to "think beyond the gym walls," and come up with ways to fit in exercise before or after school. One idea is to have teachers integrate physical activity into math and reading lessons.
At Wildwood Elementary in Amherst, Mass., kids are required to take a morning walk between the time buses drop them off and classes start.
Rebecca Spencer, whose 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters attend Wildwood, says it is a good way for the kids to fit in some more exercise. "They only get [P.E.] once a week, and it is for an hour. So it is very brief," Spencer tells Shots Blog.
The school has also organized what it calls a jog-a-thon for the older kids. Students can run laps around the playground to earn points, and the school keeps track of all their miles to see how far they have run collectively run.
Spencer's older daughter also swims after school.
And these school-wide initiatives are a good way to get every student to exercise, Spencer says. "Some people think of recess as a time for physical activity," she says. "But there is actually nothing to make sure these kids are being physical during that time." Having some structured P.E. classes at school is important, she says.
Spenser, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, says she is well aware of the physical and cognitive benefits that kids get from being active. "The P.E. is giving them some of the motor skills that they need," she says. But, she also says she understands that the school does not necessarily have the resources to provide more P.E. classes.
"Exercise — any exercise — is great for brain development," she says. "Most of the studies that have been done that show how the brain develops through exercise actually do not use any special form of exercise," she says. "They typically use just treadmill walking." That seems to indicate that even a simple walk around a track can do kids a lot of good."