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What the City Actually Can Do To Combat Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity, which is caused by a sedentary lifestyle and poor daily diet, is a serious health crisis in our country. Forty-three percent of the city’s schoolchildren are overweight or obese. Between 30 and 40 percent of all children born in the United States in 2000 are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes. These statistics call for action.

If the city’s Department of Education genuinely wants to address what some health experts are describing as an epidemic, it needs to act quickly to improve the quality of the food that is offered every day to children in our public schools. The city also needs to make sure our children are getting the physical exercise they need and that New York State Law requires.

As parents on the Wellness Committee at our schools, we have suggestions for how the DOE can combat childhood obesity — without banning homemade baked goods from school fundraisers.

  • Remove the vending machines from our middle and high schools. These machines sell highly-processed foods such as Doritos, Frito Lays chips, and Pop-Tarts. Marketing these foods and making them available every day to our children is not only filling our children with empty calories they don’t need, it’s also developing in them a lifetime of bad eating habits.
  • Replace the foods containing corn syrup in our school cafeterias with healthier options that do not. More on this in our next post.
  • Stop serving chocolate milk in our schools. Instead, provide every school cafeteria with a water jet machine, so that children have the option of drinking water with their lunch and breakfast.
  • Follow Baltimore’s example and implement Meatless Mondays in all public schools. In addition, all schools should offer a plant-based meal option every day. Half of children 2-15 years of age have fatty streaks in their arteries, the beginnings of heart disease, and animal products are a major source of the cholesterol and saturated fats causing these deposits. Our children should be eating less meat and more beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits for lunch. 
  • As proposed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the DOE should create a mandatory K-12 nutrition curriculum so that children can become educated about the food they eat, where it comes from, and its impact on the environment and their health.
  • Bring yoga into the schools. Many city schools don’t have gyms or even playgrounds. Yoga requires only requires a mat and can be done in the classroom if a school has no gym. It’s an inexpensive way for the city to ensure our children are getting the physical exercise they need.

For parents who don’t want to wait around for the DOE to implement these changes, we will soon address what parents can do at their schools to begin making some of the changes we suggest, so that together we can be part of the solution to this public health crisis.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.