Linking Bad Behavior to Childhood Obesity

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The obesity crisis in this state has reached a dangerously high level. Georgia has the second largest population in the nation of children 6-19 who are obese. Obesity affects not only a child’s health and self-esteem, but academics and behavior as well.

Linking behavior problems to a child’s weight is an alarming discovery. How many children have been suspended and missed precious instructional time because their acting out was attributed to their weight? Parents, teachers, and school officials need to be aware of the consequences of a non-nutritious diet and lack of exercise, and how they can affect a child’s behavior and performance in the classroom.

Gov. Sonny Perdue described childhood obesity as an issue worthy of governmental intervention when he spoke at The Arthur M. Blank Foundation’s fall event, “Understanding the Body-Mind Connection: How Physical Fitness Can Improve Student Outcomes and Build Better Brains.” He said childhood obesity has negative economic, educational, and national security costs that we can no longer afford to ignore.

Kenneth Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., a leader of an international fitness movement and author of the bestseller, Aerobics, and John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who studies the relationship between exercise and brain function, discussed the positive health outcomes that would emerge with a decrease in childhood obesity. They also talked about how behavior problems in school can decrease if children are consistently engaged in fitness programs and provided insight into national fitness programs and strategies that are working to eliminate this problem.

Cooper is founder of Cooper Aerobics Center and the Cooper Institute, in Dallas, Tx., which created FITNESSGRAM, a fitness assessment tool with an educational reporting system that school districts throughout the country are using. This is just one of several new initiatives across Georgia and the nation that are implementing fitness programs to help fight the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. The Georgia Student Health and Physical Education (S.H.A.P.E.) Partnership, a result of House Bill 229 passed during the 2009 Georgia legislative session, requires that every local school district conduct an annual fitness assessment program for all students in grades 1-12 who are enrolled in a Georgia public school physical education class. This legislation will help the state establish a database to track and monitor the fitness levels of all students, which in turn will allow us to identify trends and develop data-driven strategies to help eliminate childhood obesity. The NFL also established an initiative, Play60, which encourages children to play for 60 minutes everyday. Any step to get kids off the couch is a step in the right direction.

While Georgia is taking the right steps to help combat childhood obesity, parents, communities, and schools must work together to take the necessary steps to improve our children’s nutrition and fitness before it’s too late.

Eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk or fast food, but there is a growing sentiment for grants to be provided to areas where healthy food options are lacking to provide increased access and affordability for healthy food. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently provided Cook County Family Connection with a $360,000 grant to implement a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project to help decrease childhood obesity. Even if healthy nutrition options aren’t available in your area yet, you can still do your part by taking a walk, playing tag, or jumping rope with your children. Let’s get moving!