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Journal Issue: Childhood Obesity Volume 16 Number 1 Spring 2006

The Role of Schools in Obesity Prevention
Mary Story Karen M. Kaphingst Simone French

Introduction

Poor diets and physical inactivity are pushing rates of overweight and obesity among the nation's children to record levels.1  Indeed, since 1960, U.S. childhood and adolescent overweight prevalence rates have more than tripled.2  The health risks associated with childhood obesity pose a critical public health challenge for the twenty-first century.3

Schools can play an important part in a national effort to prevent childhood obesity. More than 95 percent of American youth aged five to seventeen are enrolled in school, and no other institution has as much continuous and intensive contact with children during their first two decades of life. Schools can promote good nutrition, physical activity, and healthy weights among children through healthful school meals and foods, physical education programs and recess, classroom health education, and school health services.

In this article we discuss the role of schools in preventing obesity. We analyze schools' food and physical activity environments and examine federal, state, and local policies related to food and physical activity standards in schools. We conclude by discussing promising and innovative obesity-prevention strategies.