Parents should be first to fight child obesity
A health expert says teachers can fight obesity in children by encouraging them to snub sugary soft drinks and fast foods.
A NEW adviser to the state Department of Health
points out that because teachers spend a considerable amount of time with students in their classrooms, they should be able to direct children away from eating habits that cause obesity.
He is correct. However, the primary guides for children and healthy diets are their parents and families. Children will take their cues for eating by what is placed on the dining table at home. If fries and sugar-laden soft drinks or double-pepperoni pizza is served by mom and dad, kids likely will continue that pattern of consumption as they grow older.
Dileep Bal, who recently moved to the islands to become Kauai County's health director and advise the department, also urged the schools to turn away fast-food companies as sponsors for fund-raising events. In a speech to nearly 400 teachers earlier this week, Bal, who headed successful anti-smoking campaigns in California, said conquering obesity should follow the model that changed attitudes about tobacco.
That could work, but aiming legislation at unhealthy eating is a lot more complicated than passing laws to ban smoking. The food industry spans a wider range of businesses and companies than Big Tobacco.
That said, Bal's aim toward children makes sense since eating habits are generally set at a young age and obesity among children in Hawaii is of particular concern. A study last year found that 32 percent of island children were overweight and 10 percent were obese by the time they reach age 1. More than 14 percent were overweight at age 5 and 19.2 percent obese.
Public schools, which do not serve fast food from restaurant chains, have limited sugar-filled drinks at vending machines; 80 percent must be healthier options like water, low-fat milk and fruit juices.
Where schools might do better in combating obesity is to step up physical education. Studies show at even 30 minutes of daily exercise promotes longevity, but as schools focus on improving academic performance, physical education has lagged.
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