Fitness Programs | The Fight Against Childhood Obesity Enters the School Cafeteria

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The Fight Against Childhood Obesity Enters the School Cafeteria

Today’s epidemic of overweight and obesity threatens the historic progress we have made in increasing American’s quality and years of healthy life. The hard facts:

  • Two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese.
  • 70% of American Indian/Alaskan Native adults are overweight or obese.
  • The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. more than doubled (from 15% to 34%) among adults and more than tripled (from 5% to 17%) among children and adolescents from 1980 to 2008.
  • An obese teenager has over a 70% greater risk of becoming an obese adult.
  • Obesity is more common among non-Hispanic black teenagers (29%) than Hispanic teenagers (17.5%) or non-Hispanic white teenagers (14.5%).

Love or hate the idea of another no-nonsense Brit telling Americans how it’s done—this time telling cafeteria workers how to prepare a healthy school lunch—the ABC reality series “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” hits on a point of no denial: Americans’ poor eating habits and lack of regular physical activity are making our society sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even coined a term for it: ‘obesogenic.’

It’s characterized by a society whose environments promote increased food intake, non-healthful foods and a lack of physical activity, escalating the risks for developing diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious health problems that were historically considered adult problems, but are increasingly seen in youngsters.

Jamie Oliver is hardly alone with his crackdown on American school menus.

Senate Bill

A bill pending in the Senate would add $4.5 billion over the next decade for school meals for poor students and give school grants to help them buy local produce.

Most of all, under the change, the Agriculture Department would create new standards for all foods in schools, including items sold in vending machines, foods served on children’s platters, at sporting events and at hallway fund-raisers.

The law would give the Agriculture department power to set limits on bake sales—which already prompted some moms to protest by selling home-made goodies at their schools—and sets limits on sodium and fat in all foods sold on campus.

A report from the Institutes of Medicine sets new standards that will require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit the amount of calories in each meal.

Here are examples of what the new guidelines will entail for snacks and beverages:


  • Snacks will contain no more than 35 percent of total calories from fat
  • Less than 10 percent of total calories come from saturated fats and zero from trans fat.


  • Beverages containing nonnutritive sweeteners are only allowed in high schools after the end of the school day
  • Foods and beverages are caffeine free, with the exception of trace amounts of naturally occurring caffeine-related substances
  • Sports drinks are provided by the school exclusively for athletes participating in sport programs involving vigorous activity lasting more than one hour
  • Both foods and beverages are not used as rewards or discipline for academic performance or behavior
  • Whole and 2 percent milk would be replaced by 1 percent milk or skim milk

Child Nutrition Act

The Agriculture Department is overhauling all school nutritional guidelines in an effort that is separate from the Child Nutrition Act, which comes up for financing every five years and pays for school food and other nutrition programs for lower-income children, the New York Times reported on March 31.

Both efforts would work in concert to bring about change in schools.

The Child Nutrition Act reportedly is a mechanism legislators can use to change the rules to govern that program. Under the existing bill headed to the Senate floor as of April 14, the increase by about 6 cents to the $2.68 that schools can get for each lunch is far less than the $1-a-lunch increase that a coalition of groups seek to change school food programs, according to the New York Times.

Michelle Obama Let’s Move Campaign

However, some people consider it a big first step in the right direction. A separate anti-obesity campaign, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in February, would also increase access to fruits and veggies to children.

Nutrition experts say that fresh produce is particularly needed in poor neighborhoods where residents often rely on fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, because they lack access to farmers markets and grocery stores. However, critics say that lack of funding to buy fresh produce remains a major issue.

The First Lady has some strong backers: President Barack Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and two other members of the Cabinet.

The president has included $345 million in his latest budget proposal for tax credits, loans and grants to establish grocery stores and fresh food markets in underserved communities. In April, New York lawmakers announced a bill that would raise annual federal funding for healthy food programs to $1 billion.

And the CDC last month reportedly awarded a $16 million grant to local health and educational officials to promote better eating and physical activity over the next two years.

In March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has teamed up with Olympic athletes and released the first in a series of web videos and public service announcements to promote Ms. Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign.

The videos featured on remind Americans that you don’t need to be an Olympian to be active, eat right and maintain a healthy weight, but uses messages from Olympians, such as figure skater Michelle Kwan, skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace and snowboarder Louie Vito to spread the word about the importance of active and healthy living.

Each year, the U.S. spends an estimated $147 billion to treat obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Research shows that if this problem is not addressed, our children could be the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

Learn how you can make a difference!

This year’s ACE Fitness Symposium hosts Shellie Pfohl as one of our three keynote speakers. Shellie was appointed by President Obama in February, 2010 as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS) and she leads the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to fight childhood obesity. In this session, learn how to join the movement and help reach the goal of solving the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.

See Symposium Schedule

Join ACE’s Efforts to Create a More Fit America

Get started today on living a more active and healthier lifestyle. Visit ACE’s Website to access exercises, workouts, fitness tips, healthy recipes and to find an ACE-certified Personal Trainer to help you get started and keep you and your family motivated.

Change isn’t always easy, but inevitable. The need to love and respect our bodies to maximize good health dates back to the civilization of ancient Greece.

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” Plato



Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE) is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
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