Results from the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey show that one quarter of children aged two–17 are overweight or obese, with 18 per cent being overweight and seven per cent obese.
While parents and carers are largely responsible for laying the foundations of lifelong good health in their children, schools also have a unique opportunity to tackle obesity in childhood.
According to the School of Public Health at Harvard University, there are several things schools can do to address childhood obesity amongst students.
‘Serving healthy choices in the lunch room, limiting availability and marketing of unhealthful foods and sugary drinks, and making water available to students throughout the day are some of the ways that schools can help prevent obesity,’ the report says.
The authors acknowledge that in implementing any of these changes, there are several obstacles that schools may face.
‘Among the obstacles: budgeting for the higher costs of purchasing and preparing more healthful foods; coaxing children to accept the more healthful options; and addressing the multitude of ways that unhealthful foods and drinks are sold or served outside of school meals, from classroom birthday parties to school-wide bake sales and sporting events,’ the report says.
Obesity prevention policies and practices in Australian schools
In Australia, a variety of school obesity prevention initiatives have been implemented, including mandatory healthy school canteen guidelines, professional development programmes for teachers, and curriculum-based programmes.
The report Adoption of obesity prevention policies and practices by Australian primary schools: 2006 to 2013, published in 2015, looked at the extent to which schools have adopted obesity prevention policies and practices. Between 2006 and 2013, a representative randomly selected cohort of primary schools in New South Wales, Australia, participated in these interviews.
The study asked principals to report (yes/no/don’t know) to whether their school had the following policies or practices in place:
- Incorporation of teaching healthy eating in key learning areas other than physical education;
- Teaching of physical activity in key learning areas other than physical education;
- Teaching of fundamental movement skills in the physical education program;
- Written healthy eating and nutrition policy;
- Written physical activity plan or policy;
- Existence of vegetable and fruit breaks in class;
- Existence of school playground markings for games and availability of sports equipment for student use;
- School provision in past 12 months of information to parents/carers about healthy eating; and,
- School provision in the past 12 months of information to parents/carers about physical activity.
This article was originally published by Teacher Magazine.