By simply taking a few easy, intentional steps, teachers can help to combat the childhood obesity crisis in our country.

It’s no secret that citizens in the United States are facing the burden of obesity. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that between 2011-2014, the prevalence of obesity in adults was 36 percent and childhood obesity has reached 17 percent. With almost one in five adolescents recognized as obese, the Center for Disease Control reports that the percentage of these young Americans who are threatened with childhood obesity has “more than tripled since the 1970s.” While we’ve all learned about the health risks associated with storing excess body fat, this increase means our society must fight harder against this epidemic.

Childhood Obesity Risks

childhood obesityAs obese children begin their lives in unhealthy bodies, they will maintain the habits that have exacerbated their childhood obesity, or potentially develop worse practices. Children who would otherwise be healthy should not have to face high blood pressure and cholesterol, the threat of type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, digestive issues, and low self-esteem, simply due to obesity. As these children mature, the likelihood they will remain obese adults increases. In addition to the aforementioned health risks, the CDC connects adult obesity with an increased risk of cancer and more severe health issues than those experienced during childhood.

Healthy Body Lessons

When children become older, it might seem more difficult to engage them in discussions and activities that decrease childhood obesity risks. With proper planning, all teachers — including those who teach under the demands of a tight high school schedule — can devote class time to educating students regarding methods to promote a healthy lifestyle.

1. The Great STEM Outdoors

childhood obesityTake opportunities to hold class outside the classroom. Simply changing a student’s environment once each week, or having them travel a bit farther to class will shift his or her perspective. Approach administrators for approval to create a school garden. This activity will allow students to take ownership of a class project, forces them to walk farther to receive a lesson, and provides an opportunity to appreciate the outdoors, which might lead to more enthusiasm for activities outside of school. Students who participate in cultivating a school garden are also more likely to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diets, helping them to make more nutritious choices even once they leave the school.

2. Outline Active STEM Jobs

Introduce students to the science within some of the most exciting, active careers. Athletes and performance artists must maintain peak physical condition to excel in their careers. Illustrate how the bodies of these professionals use science to maximize performance. When students associate their idols with a relatable topic such as STEM, it will allow children to feel a sense that they are also able to accomplish greatness.

3. Hit the Gym

childhood obesityThough a teacher might not specialize in physical education, it doesn’t mean the school gymnasium is off limits. Take STEM lessons to the gym and use the opportunity to illustrate concepts covered in lessons. Use a basketball game to explain the rules of physics. Ask students to observe the process of perspiration when covering human physiology.

As educators move toward recognizing the value of whole child education, greater emphasis will be placed on the importance of overall student health. Happy, healthy, fit students who have overcome or avoided childhood obesity will be more prepared to meet each day’s academic challenges. Through setting fitness goals, students will gain confidence, increase self-esteem, and look toward a brighter future — all traits that are crucial for success as adults.

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