Obesity in School Children
Children develop within a set framework and grow according to the levels of exercise and nutrition available to them as well as their particular genetic nature. In affluent countries such as Australia this growth can be affected by the lack of exercise and the consumption of too many kilojoules. Currently there are a large percentage of children who are verging on obesity or are obese, and this is an emerging cause for worry in today’s schools. Children today are not as active as previous generations, sometimes due to a lack of opportunity such as being driven to school instead of walking.
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Other reasons are less time outside and more time watching television and playing computer games. There is a much larger availability of nutritionally poor fast food today than there was for previous generations which have made children more vulnerable to becoming overweight or obese. Schools and teachers can promote physical activity through many initiatives and programs. Implementing these initiatives early in a child’s learning can encourage healthy attitudes towards nutrition and exercise. “Weight problems in childhood,” 2011)
There are approximately one in five children and adolescents in Australia who are overweight or obese and if this rate increases at the level it is now the prediction for 2020 is that sixty-five percent of children will be in the overweight range. (“Obesity in Children,”2011) Some of the many factors causing this upsurge in overweight children appear to be coming from the lifestyles of families. Poor nutrition and bad eating patterns are a cause of obesity and families need to develop good nutritional guidelines to prevent obesity.
Physical activity in middle childhood (6-10 years) Australian children do not spend as much time in active play as previous generations and watch television and play computer games as a large part of their recreation. (“Obesity in Children,”2011) Physical activity within the age range of middle childhood (6-10 years) should take advantage of the growing ability of the children to understand and follow rules and to participate in team activities. They are able to work collaboratively to develop planning and management skills required for successful competition.
Phases of development, 1998) The physical changes which occur in children during middle childhood (6-10 years) are gradual, constant increases in height and weight, advances in their gross motor skills and improved physical capabilities. (McDevitt and Ormrod, 2010. p. 161) Children at the lower end of this age range lose their baby teeth and progress towards skeletal maturity. A child’s cognitive development in middle childhood means spending less time in a pretend world and more time with real-life activities.
They learn to read and write, gain understanding of rules in games and develop peer friendships. (Phases of development, 1998) During this stage of their development children also gain awareness of the differences they may have with others and will question the reasons for those differences. This social-emotional development can mean self-esteem issues may arise during this time. (McDevitt and Ormrod, 2010. p. 5) At the higher end of this age group children may engage in less exercise as they move towards adolescence.
Teachers and schools need to promote healthy eating habits and regular exercise during this period of growth to strengthen the activeness enjoyed earlier in the age group and to help ingrain good habits for the next stage of the child’s growth. (Yager & O’Dea, 2005) Teachers should examine the community values of the children being taught to discover the most effective ways of promoting physical activity in their daily lives. The context of the child’s life will differ due to the values and structure of the environment outside of school’s boundaries.
Teachers need to become aware of these differences and incorporate them into a program of teaching to promote health and fitness. (McDevitt and Ormrod, 2010) The teacher’s role in addressing and preventing obesity The teacher’s role in the prevention of obesity in children cannot be done in isolation but must come from a whole school approach starting with the youngest members of the school community and their parents. Schools should have adequate training for staff and positive programs for students in place for education about nutrition and exercise.
Appropriate attitudes towards the eating and exercise programs and for those children who are vulnerable within the school environment are a necessary part of a preventative program. (Yager & O’Dea, 2005) Teachers who understand the significance of Bandura’s (1986) social learning theory, which states “people learn from one another” have the opportunity to be constructive role models, giving the students clear messages about body image, showing tolerance for diverse body shapes and supportive practices for struggling students. (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2011)
Four ways a teacher can assist in addressing and/or preventing obesity Movement in the classroom There are many ways a teacher can introduce movement in to the daily programs in the classroom through games, quizzes and physical challenges. Some of these can be adapted to align with the units of study being introduced. A times table quiz can be extended by having children jump out the answer or a spelling challenge can introduce making letter shapes with their bodies. To encourage children to work with others, especially someone new, physical games can be used to promote cooperation.
Some team games such as “Birds of a Feather Flock Together, Feather Fun, Follow the Leader” (Daily physical activity, 2006) are suitable to use for introduction and cooperation within the class. Physical activities and games will encourage children to develop different points of view and improve abstract thinking, as well as gaining knowledge about planning, managing and organising groups to complete challenges. Playground exercise Movement outside of the classroom is an important aspect of a child’s time at school, with children having time during recess and lunch to run and play.
Schools should provide equipment and toys which encourage movement. Teachers can add to the amount of time children are active by introducing a daily program of exercise or finding time to play games in the school yard on frequent occasions during the school week. Teachers can also add to unit work by bringing in exploration of the natural environment, for example walking to a nearby creek when studying pollution in the year five unit on waterways (Queensland Studies Authority, 2011) and adding to other units in a similar way. Nutrition for children
Teaching children about the value of good nutrition is a fundamental way of helping them to understand what food does to the body and where nutrients come from. Starting in the lowest grades the schools should have a program in place to show children what is good food and what is not. But in the classroom a teacher can introduce a fruit or vegetable mini snack time and introduce children to different foods. This will expand their palates and may have them asking their parents for more of the foods they are trying for the first time.
By introducing these foods at school children will be more inclined to try, as they see their peers doing so. (Nutrition & Physical Activity. 2009) Freshly grown food Introducing new and different foods to children can be a positive step towards healthy eating habits but teaching children to grow their own fruit and vegetables will illustrate more clearly where some foods come from and convey the ability that children can produce their own food. Learning how to grow and pick fruits and vegetables and then to prepare, cook and share this fresh food is a great way to introduce them to the tastes and smells of nature and of natural foods.
Children are more likely to try food they have grown themselves and working in a school garden can promote cooperation and the learning of life skills. (Growing food in schools, 2011) A program of growing fresh food can have far reaching consequences through the education of children and through them to the wider community of parents and families. By building a “positive food movement” (Growing food in schools, 2011) a teacher can impact the environment outside of the school gate and change the way children and their families think about nutrition.
Children in middle childhood are growing into a sense of themselves and teachers have a responsibility to advance that growth in as many ways as they can. (Phases of development, 1998) These children also enjoy the challenges of team games and sports and teachers can encourage this activity in their daily routine. By programming activity and introducing sound nutritional ideas and healthier food choices a teacher can influence children and possibly lessen the future obesity worries for this generation.