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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

Health Curriculum

Health education is an essential part of a coordinated school health program, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By highlighting the importance of both nutrition and physical activity, health education can help students adopt and maintain physically active and healthful-eating lifestyles.96  Key elements of health education include a planned and sequential educational program for students in grades K–12; behavioral skills development; instructional time at each grade level; instruction from qualified teachers; involvement of parents, health professionals, and other community members; and periodic curriculum evaluation and updating.97  Research supports the effectiveness of behavioral-oriented curriculums in promoting healthful food choices and physical activity.98  To maximize classroom time, nutrition and physical activity instruction could also be integrated into the lesson plans of other school subjects, such as math, biology, and the language arts.

Only six states do not require schools to provide health education.99  Nearly 70 percent of states require health education curriculums to include instruction on nutrition and dietary behavior, and some 62 percent require content on physical activity and fitness.100  But health education teachers at all levels average only about five hours a year teaching about the former and four hours a year about the latter—not nearly enough to affect children's behavior.101  Competing time demands, a lack of resources, and the increased focus on meeting state academic standards all chip away at teaching time.102  Integrating health education into the existing curriculum is one way to overcome these problems.