Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and threatens to impact the health and well-being of numerous
children and adolescents. The number of overweight youth has more than doubled since the early 1970s. Today, approximately
13 percent of children and adolescents - nearly 5.3 million youth - are seriously overweight.
Since most children and adolescents are enrolled in schools, schools present a unique opportunity to promote healthy eating
and regular physical activity. States, school districts and schools are addressing childhood obesity through multi-pronged
strategies that include developing school nutrition and physical activity policies, implementing classroom instruction in
nutrition and physical education, and creating a supportive school environment. States can help prevent and reduce obesity
in school-age youth by:
- Developing policy and program guidelines for schools.
- Strengthening physical activity requirements, standards and programs in schools.
- Implementing nutrition policies and education programs.
- Fostering school and community partnerships that promote regular physical activity.
- Engaging students, school faculty, families, and communities in promoting healthy eating and regular physical activity.
- Creating public awareness and education campaigns.
Preventing Obesity in Youth through School-Based Efforts
Since most children and adolescents are enrolled in schools, schools present a unique opportunity to promote
healthy eating and regular physical activity. States, school districts and schools are addressing childhood obesity through
multi-pronged strategies that include developing school nutrition and physical activity policies, implementing classroom instruction
in nutrition and physical education, and creating a supportive school environment. States can help prevent and reduce obesity
in school-age youth by:
Developing policy and program guidelines for schools.
• Strengthening physical activity requirements, standards and programs in schools.
• Implementing nutrition policies and education programs.
• Fostering school and community partnerships that promote regular physical activity.
• Engaging students, school faculty, families, and communities in promoting healthy eating and regular physical
• Creating public awareness and education campaigns.
The Role of Schools in Promoting Healthy Living
Children’s health and well-being play a critical role in their ability to come to school ready to learn
and in their overall academic achievement. Schools have a unique opportunity to provide children and adolescents the
skills and support they need to adopt healthy behaviors. They have regular access to children and youth — more than
95 percent of all children and adolescents aged 5-17 are enrolled in school. Teachers and other school personnel can educate,
support and reinforce students’ health behaviors, including promoting healthy eating and regular physical activity.
States can take several steps to encourage healthy lifestyles through school-based efforts .
Develop Policy and Program Guidelines for Schools Many states are developing physical activity and nutrition guidelines and recommendations for schools. In addition
to using national research to inform policy, some states are supporting state-level research to determine the status of diet
and physical activity in youth, and craft policy recommendations. In California, the Public Health Institute and the California Department of Health Services conducted a survey
of California adolescents, ages 12 to 17 years, to gather information on adolescents’ diet and physical activity. The
results of the study formed the basis of policy recommendations for improving the health status of California adolescents
that were highlighted in the report, “California Teen Eating, Exercise, and Nutrition Survey.”20 The Kentucky State Department of Education is in the final stages of crafting a “Comprehensive Plan for Coordinated School
Health” that provides objectives and activities that support schools in developing coordinated school health programs.
Physical activity, nutrition education, and the decrease of tobacco usage are major areas of emphasis. The Lieutenant Governor’s
Task Force on Nutrition and Fitness introduced a bill during the last legislative session that would have required daily physical
activity for elementary school students, limited the sale of certain foods during school hours, and established training requirements
and continuing education for school food service directors and managers. The bill received widespread support from numerous
stakeholder groups but did not pass.
Strengthen Physical Activity Requirements, Standards, and Programs in Schools
Regular physical activity promotes numerous health, social and educational benefits in youth. It can help control
weight, improve strength and endurance, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem.It can increase concentration, reduce
disruptive behavior and improve academic achievement, even when time for physical education reduces time spent on academics.
In fact, students who participate in interscholastic sports are less likely to smoke or use drugs, and are more likely to
have high academic achievement and overall good conduct. In spite of the benefits of regular physical activity, only one in
three (35 percent) of students in grades 9-12 participate regularly in vigorous physical activity.
National guidelines recommend that elementary school children receive 150 minutes per week of physical activity,
and that middle school and high school students receive 225 minutes per week. Nearly all states have some type of legislative
mandate for physical activity. However, many of these mandates are broad and leave local school districts to determine such
parameters as the number of hours students spend in physical education.
Education reform efforts have spawned the development of educational standards, which in nearly all states (i.e.,
44 states) include state standards for physical education. Over 80 percent of the states with physical education standards
follow national guidelines. A few states include physical education as part of state assessments and graduation requirements.
In spite of these efforts, physical education requirements continue to be eroded by academic requirements that place greater
emphasis on subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic.
Illinois is the only state in the nation that requires
daily physical education for all students, grades kindergarten through 12. Certified physical education specialists teach
physical education at the elementary, midle school and high school levels.
Implement Nutrition Policies and Education Programs
Proper nutrition is an important building block to a child’s ability to learn and their overall health
status. Children who are hungry are more likely to have behavioral, emotional and academic problems at school.School
food service programs contribute a significant amount of the nutrition that many children receive in a given day, particularly
for those youth who are low-income and thus qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. Effective nutrition
policies and education programs promote and reinforce healthy eating habits, create supportive
environments, and teach youth the importance of eating right.
Families, and Communities in Promoting Healthy Eating policies
in schools but also provides youth with an important learning tool.
Engage Students, School Faculties
and Regular Physical Activity Youth are an important voice
and partner in making nutrition and physical activity changes in schools. Engaging youth in promoting and advocating for health
and fitness not only contributes to improved policies in
schools but also provides youth with an important learning tool. School faculty and parents provide
important reinforcement and can also benefit from a school’s physical activity and nutrition program improvements.
Taking whole milk out of schools won't make kids thinner. Neither will levying taxes on video
games. These are actual proposals— by the Illinois State Board of Education and the New York Legislature, no less. But
they're misguided, arising predictably from misinformation. You don't need to be told that American kids are getting fatter.
You've seen the evidence waddling toward you in the mall. What we all could use instead is a clear-eyed look at the situation,
minus the panic: How bad is it, how'd we get here and what are we going to do about it? That's where Men's Health can help.
We've read the research and talked to the top experts. We've visited schools and spoken with teachers, coaches and kids. And
we've gotten as close to the truth as we can.
Most kids don't know the truth. Politically correct words—"heavyset,"
"husky"—make denial easier for everyone, and loose fashions disguise flab. Misleading measurements such as body-mass
index (BMI) greatly underestimate the number of overweight children. "Kids who would have been called overweight 15 to 20
years ago are now considered husky," says David Watson, M.D., a pediatrician who works with schools in Massachusetts. "Moderately
overweight kids now see themselves as being normal weight."
There's denial about levels of physical activity, too. Hard
research busts us, adults and children alike, for claiming to be more active than we are. The ultimate result: We're shortening
our children's lives. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that our kids' life spans are expected to be
2 to 5 years shorter than our own—because of fat. And the time they will have may be plagued by problems. More than
9 million overweight children are predisposed to depression, negative self-image, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
our research, we found hope—the start of something exciting. We found it in places like Hartland, Wis., in 18-year-old
Corey Wise, a recent graduate of Arrowhead Union High School. Three years ago, Wise was a fat, slothful sophomore, suspended
after two failing grades. Then he found Club Arrowhead, his school's new physical-education course. It's almost a health club
for teenagers, not the lap-running, square-dancing classes that failed today's adults. Corey's 225 pounds seemed to morph
from fat to muscle and migrated from his belly to his chest, shoulders and arms. As his body-fat percentage dropped, his grade-point
average rose—from 1.9 to 3.0.
But while Arrowhead may be the future of physical education, and a number of schools
across the country are revamping their phys-ed programs, most remain clueless. That's why we culled the secrets of America's
fittest schools and asked experts to help create a curriculum to rebuild any student body. On the following pages, you'll
find our prescription for saving a generation—and it's your responsibility to help. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
1. Focus on First Graders
A student who enters high school overweight has only a slight chance of reaching a normal
weight by adulthood, report researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, who studied more than 800 people, at age 10 and again
between the ages of 19 and 35. High-school freshmen at healthy weights, on the other hand, are four times as likely to stay
slim as adults. It's important to hook them early. "By the time kids reach the third grade, they're making excuses for why
they don't participate in exercise," says Jim Liston, C.S.C.S., owner of Catz Competitive Athlete Training Zone, in Pasadena,
Calif. Encouraging them in the early grades is crucial, he says. "There's no fear of failure in kindergartners and first graders,
but somewhere between first and third, kids become conscious of their bodies and of what other people think." If they give
up on sports, "it really classifies them as outsiders," adds Dr. Watson, "particularly the boys, because athleticism defines
the maleness of an American elementary or middle schooler." FACT: Fat kids often stay fat. PRESCRIPTION: Schedule vigorous
play throughout the early grades.
2. Lift Their Spirits
Overweight kids prefer lifting weights to aerobic activity,
according to a report by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. That's mainly because they can lift more weight
than their lighter peers can, and endurance isn't as much of a factor. "In every study I've seen on young children, the only
workouts that have changed body composition include some type of strength exercise," says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., author of
the report. "Once kids develop strength and a higher metabolic rate, they can enjoy activity and burn calories." Realizing
you're stronger is an instant confidence boost, as Arrowhead junior Anders Rahm can attest. He has asthma and Osgood-Schlatter
disease (the patellar tendons pull away from the shinbone). A strength and flexibility course called Zero Hour—held
before school—helped alleviate Rahm's pain while improving endurance and helping him pack on 15 pounds of muscle. FACT:
Weight lifting burns calories, changes bodies and builds confidence. PRESCRIPTION: Make strength training available.
Find the Experts Outside (and Inside) the School
America's best trainers work with professional athletes to shave their
40-yard-dash times. Of course, they won't come to your high school's track. Not if you don't ask, that is. Arrowhead's activities
director, Geoff Steinbach, sought out world-renowned speed coach Loren Seagrave, whom he knew from the University of Wisconsin.
Seagrave helped develop the concept for Club Arrowhead and returns frequently to teach a class at the school. Then Steinbach
looked down the hall and realized he had a full construction crew ready to build platforms for weight-room equipment: Arrowhead's
tech ed department pitched in and saved the school more than $16,000. Contact your local private gym or college to see if
the head trainer can help design a course or lead a weekly class. And reach out to local businesses to involve the community.
FACT: Experts are nearby.
PRESCRIPTION: Recruit them. Students will listen.
4. Turn the Gym Into a Health Club
arrowhead began as a summer-school program, and by the second year, "there were parents lined up at 4 a.m. with sleeping bags
and lawn chairs for a 7 a.m. registration," says Steinbach. The course consists of strength training, speed work, plyometrics
and flexibility. Coaches put the education back in physical education, explaining every facet, from the muscles used in an
exercise to the point of dynamic warmups. Kids soak it up and exercise with a sense of purpose, not as though it's punishment.
Its popularity led to club arrowhead fitness for life, a cardiovascular course, and adventure phys ed, a summer class that
takes advantage of local resources—it includes backpacking, climbing, and canoeing in wisconsin's lake country. "We
ought to be introducing kids to all kinds of different sports and activities," says George Graham, Ph.D., a past president
of the national association for sport and physical education. Arrowhead's staff encourages students to suggest courses or
activities. The faculty has received hundreds of suggestions, from rock climbing and bowling to table tennis. You don't need
a health-club budget to offer cool classes. The most successful schools are the ones that actively seek grants. Go to www.aahperd.org/naspe
to learn more about this option. FACT: Kids like variety. PRESCRIPTION: Meet with administrators, teachers and students to
organize a fitness club at your high school.
5. Outsource at Least One Class
the physical-education system neared rock bottom in the late '90s, private fitness centers catering to kids charged onto the
scene. Most were developed for young athletes, but parents began enrolling out-of-shape kids. By 2000, this niche market was
a $4 billion business, roughly a quarter of the entire fitness industry in the United States, according to Brian Grasso, executive
director of the International Youth Conditioning Association. Loren Seagrave founded the first Velocity Sports Performance
gym in 1999. Now, with 77 facilities across North America and 20 more scheduled to open this year, the franchise is booming,
and Seagrave is showcasing his training to schools. "Learning to accelerate, change direction and jump higher is really exciting,"
he says. "When kids feel in control of their bodies, it gives them confidence." Students at Hinsdale South High School, in
Darien, Ill., are bused to the local Velocity for a workout. Go to Velocitysp.com to find a location near you. And visit the
Internet sites of other national youth-fitness centers, such as Catz training centers (catzsports.com). FACT: The private
sector can help. PRESCRIPTION: Survey your schools, gauge demand, and let free enterprise take over.
6. Call a Parent-Teacher
No longer assume a child is getting the physical education he or she needs. If you're a parent, approach
your child's school principal to see how you can help; if you're faculty, involve the parents. "When my daughter told me in
kindergarten that she ran 40 yards in a 30-minute class, I was pissed," says Liston. So he designed basic workout routines
that any teacher or parent can lead. Go to menshealth.com/kids for a sample routine for elementary-school students.
also held a silent auction to raise money for fitness equipment and to hire two part-time physical-education instructors for
kindergarten through fifth grade. And he started Catz P.L.A.Y. (Parents Leading Active Youth), a program in which an active
parent leads a physical-education class every Friday afternoon. Try these ideas at your school. FACT: Schools won't change
without a push from parents. PRESCRIPTION: Get involved.
7. Lose 10 Pounds
Akins High School in Austin is straight
out of Stand And Deliver. It's an impoverished Texas school where neither parents nor kids care enough about their health,
says John Vogt, M.S., C.S.C.S., the physical-education instructor at the school. In his best Edward James Olmos impression,
Vogt is piloting a Velocity-inspired course this fall. "The objective is to generate interest and make examples of kids who
excel," Vogt says. That can start at home. Vogt has a message for overweight coaches and parents: Get in shape. Vogt, 57,
works out 3 or 4 days a week and encourages his staff to do the same. FACT: Your example counts. PRESCRIPTION: Drop a few.
the Heck Happened? How Did Kids Become so Fat? From food and technology, basically—more highly processed, sugary foods
and drinks, less physical activity and more reasons to sit on a couch, according to every expert we spoke to for this story.
education can't cancel this out, but it can absolutely help. It's not just getting kids moving—the education part is
equally important. "The goal of physical education is to educate people to the point at which, when given the choice, they'll
voluntarily choose to be physically active," says George Graham, Ph.D., a past president of the National Association for Sport
and Physical Education.
OK, but what happened to phys ed? And why do so few kids take it? "In the 1950s and '60s, physical
education was respected as a way of life, whereas now it's part of aesthetic appeal," says Brian Grasso, president of the
International Youth Conditioning Association. "Back then, phys-ed instructors were idealized in a hierarchy above lawyers
and doctors, as they still are in the purest sport countries, such as Australia." Here, he says, the best fitness experts
choose more profitable professions, such as working with collegiate and professional athletes. Real trouble began in the 1970s.
"Many adults had awful experiences with physical activity as kids, and now 'exercise' is a bad word to them," says Graham.
The average American is not active and did not enjoy gym class. When phys ed failed the majority of American adults, he says,
society as a whole began to conclude that it wasn't worthwhile.
Then we allowed legislatures to bury it. In the mid-'90s,
states began academic testing, which pressured schools to cut "dispensable" programs. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,
which tied funding to test scores, put more economic pressure on districts to focus on academics—often at the expense
of physical education. "Ultimately," says Graham, "schools got the message: If it's not tested, it doesn't count."
According to a new survey by Prevention magazine, a full 76 percent of all children ages
10 to 17 say they'd like to exercise with their parents. So get moving. We asked Michael Mejia, M.S., C.S.C.S., advisor to
the Center for Sports Parenting, to create age-specific father-kid workouts designed to be as fun as they are effective. Do
them three days a week to form a lasting habit—for both you and your kid.
Ages 6 to 8
Benefit to your kids: Builds
fitness, improves body awareness and increases flexibility. Benefit to you: Cures treadmill boredom.
How to do it: Perform exercises in succession.
Benefit to your kids: Improves speed, agility, quickness, and strength.
- Jumping jacks: Do 10.
- Zigzag sprints: Cover a total of 40 yards by running 10 yards, then changing directions and running another 10 yards.
- Body-weight squats: Do 10. Bunny hops: Jump forward, keeping your feet together, for 10 to 15 yards.
- Pushups: Do as many as possible.
- Monkey run: Shuffle sideways for 10 yards and back, two times. Turn around and repeat, leading with the other foot.
- Squat thrusts: Do five to 10, just like in junior-high gym class.
- Rest for 2 minutes, then repeat.
9 to 11
Benefit to you: Burns fat and increases your draft value in the neighborhood pickup game.
How to do it: Cardiovascular training first, then strength training.
Ages 12 to 16
- Cardiovascular Workout Strength Workout Complete each task before moving on to the next. Perform each pair of exercises
as a superset, doing one set of each exercise before resting for 90 seconds. Do a total of two or three sets of each. Rabbit
race: Allow your kid a 5- to 10-yard head start for a 40-yard race, chasing him from behind. Rest 90 seconds, then repeat
- Driveway shuttles: Place six objects—tennis balls, for instance—at the end of the driveway. Take turns sprinting
to retrieve objects. Rest 90 seconds; repeat three to five times.
- Tag: Mark off a 20-foot-by-20-foot area and play tag. (You're it!) Go continuously for 60 seconds, then rest for 60 seconds.
Do five rounds. Superset 1:
- Broomstick overhead squats: Hold a broomstick with arms straight above your head. Keep your body as upright as possible
and squat as deep as you can. Do six to 10 repetitions.
- Pushups: Lower your body until your upper arms dip below your elbows, then push yourself back up. Do six to 10 reps. Superset
- Single-leg phone-book touches: Place a phone book in front of you, stand on your left leg, and squat to touch the phone
book with your right hand. Do six repetitions, then switch legs and repeat. That's one set.
- Bridges: Get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands.
Pull your abdomen in. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. That's one set.
Benefit to your kids: Builds
speed endurance and improves balance and core strength. Benefit to you: Works muscles you didn't know you had, in a high-intensity
How to do it: Do cardiovascular followed by strength one day, vice versa the next.
- Cardiovascular Workout Strength Workout Complete all sets of each task before moving on to the next. Perform the exercises
as straight sets, doing two sets of each exercise before moving on to the next. Rest 90 seconds after each.
- Rundowns: You sprint for 5 to 10 seconds. When you slow, your kid sprints until he catches you, then slows to your pace.
Repeat. When your kid catches you five times, you've completed one set. Do two sets each, and build up to four.
- Timed suicides: Sprint as fast you can for 5 yards, then turn and sprint back to the starting line. Do this continuously,
increasing the distance to the turnaround by 5 yards each time. Cover as much ground as you can in 30 seconds. Then rest while
your kid runs. Repeat two to four times each.
- Single-leg deadlifts: Stand on your left leg, holding your right leg in the air, bent 90 degrees. Slowly lower your body
until your left thigh is parallel to the floor, then push yourself back to the starting position. Do six repetitions.
- Swiss-ball back extensions: Lie chest down on a Swiss ball, your arms in front of you and your feet braced on the floor.
Raise your arms, shoulders, head, and chest as high as possible. Pause for 2 seconds, then return to the starting position.
Do 10 to 12 repetitions.
- Swiss-ball leg curls: Lie on your back on the floor and place your lower legs on a Swiss ball. Push your hips up so that
your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Without pausing, pull your heels toward you and roll the
ball as close as possible to your hips while keeping your body in a straight line. Roll the ball back to the starting position.
Do six to eight repetitions.
- 4. Traveling lunges: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step forward with your left leg. Lower your body until your
left thigh is parallel to the floor and your right knee nearly touches the floor, keeping your torso upright. Push off your
left leg and step forward with your right leg so that your body is in the starting position again. Then repeat, lunging forward
with your right leg this time. Continue to alternate legs until you've traveled 20 yards
Here are some facts and figures that shows the health status of the 50 states . Where does your state
America's Healthiest And Unhealthiest States
States in New England top a new set of rankings, while the South still lags.
If you want to be healthy, live in Vermont—or at least act like you do. It is the healthiest state in the country, according
to a new report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation.
The annual ranking looks at 22 indicators of health, including everything from how many children receive recommended vaccinations,
to obesity and smoking rates, to cancer deaths. (The foundation is funded by the insurer UnitedHealth Group).
Vermont ranked first this year thanks in part to its low rate of obesity, high number of doctors and a low rate of child poverty.
New England in general sets a benchmark for the country, the report found. All six New England states are in the top 10. These
states have favorable demographics and an excellent public health infrastructure, including a large number of doctors per
Eight of the 10 bottom-ranked states are from the south, with Mississippi coming in dead last for the ninth consecutive year.
Mississippi has a sky-high death rate from heart disease and high infant mortality. In general, residents of these states
are more likely to be smokers or to be obese, the report found. They also have worse health insurance coverage, fewer physicians
per capita and live in areas with high violent crime and more child poverty.
UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President Dr. Reed Tuckson says the report is meant to draw attention to public health issues,
particularly the twin challenges of smoking and obesity. While the smoking rate has decreased in the past 20 years, nearly
one in five Americans still smoke. More than one-quarter of American adults suffer from obesity, a condition that the report
estimated will cost $344 billion in annual health care costs by 2018. "We are about to deliver a tsunami of preventable chronic
illness that will come pouring into the medical care delivery system," says Reed
Scores for each state are determined by gathering data from a variety of government and nongovernmental databases and then
calculating how much each state is better or worse than the national average for each measure. The scores take into account
a broad variety of health measures, including rates of infectious diseases, number of preventable hospitalizations and even
levels of air pollution (See the report).
Christine Finley, the state's deputy commissioner for public health, says Vermont's performance in the rankings reflects its
demographics. The state is 96 percent Caucasian, and research has shown that health outcomes can be worse for racial and ethnic
populations as well as those with lower incomes and education levels. It also helps that every pediatrician in Vermont accepts
Medicaid and the benefits extend to families who earn up to 300 percent of the poverty line.
Vermont fell short in some categories. Only 74 percent of children between 19 and 35 months have received recommended immunizations,
compared to a national average of 78 percent. Vermonters also drink more than most Americans; 18 percent admit to binge drinking,
while the national average is 16 percent.
For the states with the worst rankings, Dr. Tuckson says the news isn't all bad. Mississippi's child poverty rate decreased
by 28 percent since last year, and its incidence of infectious disease decreased by 36 percent since 2003. In Louisiana, ranked
47th, preventable hospitalizations decreased by 11 percent since last year, and the smoking rate is down five percentage points
in five years.
The rankings are a collaboration between the foundation, The American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention,
a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.
American Public Health Association Executive Director Dr. Georges C. Benjamin hopes the report will help state governments
do better. "We're at the point where we recognize we have a crisis," he says. "It remains to be seen if we're in it for the
The 5 Healthiest States:
5. New Hampshire
The 5 Unhealthiest States:
46. South Carolina
Where Does Your State Rank?