SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Kids Grow In Many Ways
By Rob Holston


December 09, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Are your school district health and physical education curriculums addressing the major health concerns of your community's students? Because our school district's goals include students demonstrating abilities in mathematics, language arts, reading, social studies and science, we should also expect our students to demonstrate a healthy body, proper eating habits, nutritional awareness and good physical development. Report cards for students traditionally place values for demonstrated performance. "A" means you're doing great, "C" means you're average and "F" means you are failing.

If your school is an average school in an average American town, recent studies show that 25% of all students are overweight and in just four years that percentage will jump to 50%. That means that by 2010 we will begin graduating 50% of our local young people with a "conditional diploma". A high school diploma is a certificate signifying certain academic accomplishments to aid graduates in their pursuit of abundant life, happiness and successful careers. The unfortunate 50% who are overweight, obese, morbidly obese &/or simply out of shape get the "conditional diploma" that guarantees a shorter life, filled with agonizing health problems, premature aging and early death.

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There are three entities in a young person's life that will affect their physical health: parents, the local schools and corporate America. Most parents would like to feel as if they are trying; yet many fail. Most school address health and physical education issues but ignore the root causes of obesity and malnutrition. Corporate America is successful in "educating" our school kids (and adults) into consuming that which kills us. The food and drink industry earns millions every day because we consume their food and drink, much of which leads directly to our obesity and early demise. It is then incumbent upon the schools to "re-educate" or "counter-educate" our young people to make responsible food and drink decisions and enjoy a variety of healthy physical and recreational activities.

In our local District Health Curriculum, at the 2nd grade level we begin to "Discuss the importance of one's own uniqueness and develop a healthy self-image." This description comes under the Mental Health heading but may have devastating effects upon the child's physical health. My fear is that this is translated into: "It's OK to look like your dad, your mom, your teacher or yourself," all of whom may be overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Many school districts identify students "at risk" in addressing issues of learning disabilities, drug use, depression, etc. but fail to deal effectively with the devastating effects of obesity. Because the harmful physical effects of this epidemic will not be noticeable until diabetes, heart disease, virtual immobility and premature death occur typically one to four decades after graduation, it is easy for a school district to ignore this social plague as not being their problem and hide behind a wall of academic denial. But as the foundations of academic excellence are laid from the early grades and fortified through high school, the basics of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices must become part of every child's life and become woven into the school and community fabric of who we are and what we will become.

A person's Body Mass Index (BMI) will reflect his or her likelihood of being healthy. Life insurance companies matriculate BMI and other statistical data into longevity tables and our own life experience and observing those around us teach us that proper weight is directly linked to not only longevity, but the quality of life. The school district should add this vital information to a student's report card and permanent record? BMI should be calculated and recorded every year for every student. Students and parents should be educated and counseled on the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight.

Beginning at the kindergarten level we teach the effects of Tobacco, Alcohol and illegal Drugs (TAD) upon the body. When do we discuss the effects of legal "additives" in foods, such as aspartame, monosodium glutamate, ferrous sulfate, salt, sugar, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, etc.? The answer seems to be "never." At grade six the "societal costs of addictions, dependency and treatment" are discussed. Unfortunately, this discussion is only relative to TAD and not relative to improper eating, lack of exercise and obesity.

Beginning at the 5th grade level, teaching about mature and immature decisions is introduced. Unfortunately the discussion seems to be limited to sexual conduct and not food and beverage choice.

Media influences upon eating decisions is introduced in the 3rd grade and peer pressure involving mostly drugs & alcohol is introduced in the 7th grade but when are students made aware of "corporate pressure" in food & beverage consumption decisions. Below are some health topics and what grade each is taught in.

AIDS: grade 3,4,5,6,9
Psychosomatic disorders: 9
STD: 8,9
Anorexia nervosa: 7
Bulimia: 7
Compulsive overeating: 7
Suicide: 7
Hepatitis: 3,4,5
Tobacco, Alcohol and Other Drugs: 2,3,

In the second grade, we show the proper use of the smoke alarm and teach why it is important to detect a situation that is life threatening, yet we go through ten years of school, never to detect the Body Fat Percentage (BFP) we have in our own bodies. This procedure takes two minutes and costs next to nothing. Let's do it annually and place this vital BFP statistic on each student's report card, at least drawing attention to this life threatening condition. Akin to BMI, the Body Fat % should be placed on each student's report card in such a manner that changes up or down could be easily read and monitored.

I many times read national reports describing the poor American educational system by stating something like: "Only 12% of US high school seniors can identify Uruguay." How many graduates know their own Body Fat %? Body Mass Index? Or how many ounces of water they should consume in a day? How many grams of fiber should we eat daily? Or how can the Glycemic Index save your life? The fact of the matter is this: Not knowing about Uruguay won't kill you but not knowing about the other topics in this paragraph may very well kill you.

In a recent report by the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity it is predicted that by 2010 nearly 50% of all U.S. children will be overweight. The current percentage is a little over 25% of our kids are overweight. These statistics and this prediction are alarming for two basic reasons that should be a red flag alert to every community's school district. #1. The reason we have education is "to improve the quality of a person's life". The gruesome facts are "Fat Kills" and "Fat Hinders". The IJPO's prediction anticipates that heart disease; diabetes, liver disorder and high cholesterol will impact these victims of obesity. #2. The percentage of the afflicted "doubling" in a mere four years is absolutely devastating when you consider it is NOT going from 2-4% or 4-8% or 8-16%.but 25-50%!

What would our response be to increasing from 25% to 50% in the schools: Dropout rate? Alcohol use? Drug use? S.T.D.? Un-wed pregnancies? Or Illiteracy?

It is clear to me that this is a community failure of immense proportions.

What can your local school district do about this tragic situation? First, let me say that I do not have all the answers. Pointing your finger at governmental agencies at various levels of local, state and federal levels won't accomplish much, but a lot of the "rubber-meeting-the-road" meets at the school district level. Your local school district has the ability to draw attention to this current and impending problem, implement record-keeping changes, improve health and physical education curriculums, engage parents and students in facing this epidemic and help coordinate the involvement of the medical community and other governmental agencies in reversing this debilitating trend.

The challenge now is for the school district to face the epidemic and do something about it. Obesity has a way of sneaking up on you as individuals and as an institution. Please don't let your initial reaction be one of denial. Communities all over America are facing this challenge, whether they know it or not and how each community reacts to the news of increasing obesity will help define that community a generation from now. We can become a positive model for how a school district and community can "grab the bull by the horns" and reverse the obesity epidemic.

In our community, this is the year to revise both the Health and Physical Education Curriculums and it is time that we thoroughly address longevity, nutrition and obesity.

A few recommendations for starters includes:

A student's height, weight & girths be recorded yearly
A student's Body Mass Index be recorded yearly
A student's Body Fat Percentage % be recorded yearly
Mandatory nutrition classes @ 3rd, 7th & 10th grades
Mandatory counseling for all obese students
Offer nutrition classes for overweight students and their parents
Medical intervention for morbidly obese
Longevity, nutrition and ideal weight can be addressed as part of the Science Curriculum, Language Arts- Reading, Spelling and Math.

This problem is one that effects individuals, families, institutions, governments, industry. What percent of our health costs are related to obesity? How does obesity effect a person's productivity? Happiness? Longevity? Depression?.

If there is something positive we can do to reverse this epidemic..shouldn't we?


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Rob is a retired teacher and a resident of Ketchikan, Alaska. He is not a health care professional; however, he has an interest in health and fitness. You should contact your doctor regarding all health care issues and follow your doctor's advice.
Contact Rob at holston[at]

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