It is a small victory for Union High School, but it provides a much-needed opportunity to discuss a larger issue.
Union, which is part of Evergreen Public Schools but has a Camas address, has been chosen as one of America’s Healthiest Schools. It is among 323 schools, including six in Washington, honored by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation based upon a series of criteria including serving healthy meals and snacks, getting students moving, and high-quality physical and health education.
Such honors can be specious, especially when trying to delineate between thousands of schools throughout the country. But Union’s success should be highlighted as children and teenagers throughout the United States continue to deal with unhealthy choices and expanding incidences of obesity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of obese children in the country has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about 1 in 5 children from ages 6 to 19 is obese, a condition that can lead to lifelong health problems. The CDC notes that children with obesity are at higher risk for chronic ailments such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, Type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease. Such children also are more prone to suffer from social isolation, depression, and low self-esteem.
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Childhood obesity also is associated with having obesity as an adult, which is linked to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and several forms of cancer. As Vox.com writes: “Obesity has become one of the greatest health scourges of our time. Around the world, it contributes to more than 3 million deaths each year.”
That points out the necessity for schools to teach students about healthy choices while helping them to develop beneficial habits. The goal is not for all children to be thin; genetics have a lot to do with that. But by teaching and reinforcing lifelong habits, we can help students reach and maintain their optimum weight.
For many adults in Washington, this is self-evident. Annual listings published by the United Health Foundation recently ranked this state as the ninth-healthiest in the country, citing Washington’s low prevalence of smoking, low rate of preventable hospitalizations, and small prevalence of low birth weights. Much of that can be attributed to the state’s well-educated population and this region’s embrace of active lifestyles. At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, it should be noted that Alabama ranked as the 47th healthiest state, followed by Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Meanwhile, it also should be pointed out that a growing body of research points to processed sugar — particularly in soft drinks — as a major cause of the nation’s obesity problem. As a policy paper from Harvard University’s School of Public Health notes: “In the 1970s, sugary drinks made up about 4 percent of U.S. daily calorie intake; by 2001, that had risen to about 9 percent.” Or as Vox writes: “First it was too many calories. Then it was too much fat. Now there’s a full-on war on sugar, our latest dietary enemy No. 1.”
In truth, there are many factors and lifestyle choices that contribute to good health and prepare children for a healthy adulthood. Parents who understand those factors and schools that promote strong health-focused programs are key to ensuring that future generations are as healthy as they can be.