According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of adolescents who are dealing with obesity has tripled since the 1970s. Based on data from 2017-2018, the CDC estimates that over 20% of young people from ages 6-19 are considered obese or severely obese and an additional 16% are considered overweight. With so many school-aged children and adolescents struggling to develop healthy eating habits, it is more important than ever to emphasize school-based nutrition education activities.
Throughout the last century in the United States, researchers have gained considerable insight into how good nutrition can have a positive impact on health outcomes for young people. Over this time, many attempts have been made to improve public health through both education and school meals programs. One of the first efforts was the National School Lunch Program, a national initiative developed in 1946 that provided low-cost or free lunches to students in public schools. The program was expanded in 1966 and is still in effect today, serving over 30 million children every day.
The success of the school lunch program eventually prompted even further legislative efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of elementary school, middle school, and high school students. In 1978, the National Education and Training (NET) Program was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide school health education resources. By incorporating nutrition lessons into school curriculum along with providing healthy meals, legislators hoped to set students up to make better food choices.
Unfortunately the NET program was effectively discontinued by the late 1990s, but the USDA has continued to provide nutrition knowledge and dietary guidelines so that students, parents, and school districts can make healthy choices about food. Over the years, these guidelines for healthy eating have come in many forms, including the “Basic 7” food groups, the “Basic 4” food groups, and the Food Guide Pyramid. Today the USDA endorses the “MyPlate” system that has been refined based on the latest research into healthy food and wellness policies.
For students of every grade level, the school year is a formative time when they are open to learning new things. It is a unique era in life when students are most receptive to new information about how to live a healthy life. Providing healthy school meals is one aspect of developing good lifestyle habits, but there is also a chance to communicate the principles that have come from current research to update guidelines and programs. Below are some ways that nutrition education can be incorporated into schools:
Teaching nutrition facts and implementing child nutrition programs are both important steps in counteracting the trend of childhood obesity. The truth is, though, that there are a variety of factors that contribute like genetics, sleep routines, and physical activity levels. To really make a difference, families need to also collectively play a role in promoting the kinds of healthy behaviors that lead to better long-term health outcomes. Below are some ways that young people can take healthier steps and decrease the chances of becoming overweight or obese:
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