A new survey reveals that many schools districts in the United States are adopting measures to help the nation reduce the number of children who are overweight and obese. According to Mike Stobbe of Associated Press, the report found that 44% of school districts banned junk food from vending machines last year, up from 30% in 2006.
The School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS), a national survey periodically conducted to assess school health policies and practices at the state, district, school, and classroom levels, also found drops in how many districts took a cut of soft drink sales, received donations from soda companies, or allowed soda company advertising.
The government statistics show that the overall proportion of US children who are overweight or obese has been holding steady at around 17%.
The study of more than 800 U.S. school districts was conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012. The CDC does the study every six years.
The study found that the percentage of school districts that received a percentage of soft drink sales receipts fell from 82% in 2006 to 69% in 2012 and the proportion that allowed soda companies to advertise soft drinks on school grounds — through posters, scoreboard placards or other ways — dropped from 47% to about 34%.
The amount that received cash awards, equipment donations or other incentives from soda companies fell from 52% to 34%, and the percentage that required physical education class in elementary schools stayed flat at about 94%, according to the study.
"There are lots and lots of factors that go into obesity rates," said Nancy Brener, lead author of the government report on the study. She is a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She noted that the study measured school district policies, which is different than asking what was actually going on at individual schools. Sometimes there's a difference, but CDC doesn't have information on how often that happens.
The new study from Institute of the National Academies might have schools rethinking their cuts to physical education programs. The report, titled Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School, finds that increasing the students' level of physical activity during the day not only makes for happier students but also improves their grades.
The conclusions of the study are a wake up call because in many cases, schools have cut physical activity programs – and even recess – specifically because they needed the extra time for academics. Yet according to the Institute's Food and Nutrition Board, which authored the report, keeping phys ed might have paid better dividends.