A team of cardiologists at the University of Michigan has found that among obese middle schoolers, 62 percent watched two or more hours of TV a day. The data suggests that when “screen time” replaces physical activity, obesity is likely to ensue. When you pair this decreased activity with the calorie-rich, fat-laden lunches served in schools, you have a full on epidemic.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2021 was meant to provide healthier food for the national school lunch program, which took effect last year. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but still far from perfect. As for the other side of the coin, it’s ultimately up to parents to tackle the TV problem. The life-long effects of poor dietary and activity habits can lead obesity, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Our resident nutrition expert, Mary Hartley, RD, has been an ardent supporter of the school lunch overhaul, and told us that for many kids, half of a child’s calorie intake comes from school lunch, and those calories were 34 percent fat.
“French fries and other potato products accounted for a disproportionate number of the vegetables on kids’ trays,” she said. “But improving school lunches is only one part of the obesity problem. Parents at home have a far greater impact.”
Watching television and surfing the internet are the most sedentary activities a child can perform; it burns little to no calories and often leads to unnecessary snacking.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting television/video time for children to a maximum of two hours per day, and no television in a child’s room,” said Mary. Healthy eating and exercise habits need to be ingrained in children at home, a place where the government can’t implement reform. Mary recommends leaving the TV off during meal times and never placing a set in a child’s room. Literally any activity other than TV is an improvement, whether it be board games or crafting to soccer and cycling, kids have to be stimulated in a more productive way.
Just in time for back to school, the USDA rolled out its Smart Snacks in Schools campaign to replace the processed junk in vending machines with nutritious foods. With schools more proactively doing their part, we need parents to throw the remote away and engage children in physical activity. The introduction to an active lifestyle is vital in preventing the development of cardiovascular and obesity-related diseases.