Why Health Education is So Important for Today's Kids

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(ARA) - The statistics are staggering! According to the American Dietetic Association, six million kids in the United States are seriously overweight and five million more are on the verge of joining them. At this pace, experts say by the year 2030 everyone in America will be obese. Part of the blame can be placed on junk food. Inactivity is also to blame; and if something isn't done soon, a new study suggests that within the next 30 years, more than 180,000 people will die of diabetes, a condition related to obesity, in California alone.

As part of the effort to prevent that from happening, last year President Bush signed the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 into law. In addition to improving the quality of food in schools and expanding the availability of nutritious meals and snacks to children, the Act contains a provision requiring every school district participating in the USDA's school meals programs to establish a local Wellness Policy by the beginning of the 2006/2007 school year.

Under the Wellness Policy, schools must set goals for nutrition education and physical activity, establish nutrition guidelines for all foods available at school, design activities that will promote student wellness, and publish a plan for evaluating the policy. "I'm convinced the Wellness Policy is going to be the key to a healthier America," says Dr. Gus Dalis, past president of the American Association for Health Education. "Health education, today, is about more than just eating right and exercising. It's about addressing topics that affect kids in their every day lives."

When it comes to enacting a Wellness Policy, some school districts are further ahead of the game than others. In California, for example, they are already in the process of adopting new health textbooks that address the overall health picture.

The new books focus on the concept that to achieve and maintain total health, people need physical, social and emotional well being. Students learn the importance of keeping their bodies healthy through proper diet and exercise; how to understand themselves and others by delving into the issues of mental health, social health and conflict resolution; and about the effects drugs, alcohol, tobacco and risky behavior can have on their bodies. They also learn the basics about allergies, asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes; and the importance of safeguarding the environment in which they live.

Dr. Dalis says the environment really plays a big role in the overall picture. "A child who not only knows that drugs are bad, but has learned resistance skills in their health class will be less likely to try drugs at a party. Those same resistance skills will prevent a child who grows up in a home where the parents smoke from picking up the habit as well; or from buying a candy bar in the vending machine instead of snacking on carrots they brought from home. Today, health education is really about giving kids the navigation skills they need to make it through life."

For more information about health education in schools, log on to www.healthykids4betterlearning.com.

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