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 Article of Interest - Health

Summit to rouse schools about child obesity
Emphasis will be on teaching good habits - chart

by Carol Ness, San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 2002

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Intensifying the focus on schools' role in fighting epidemic-level obesity among America's children, the nation's top educators, doctors and nutritionists are coming together for the first Healthy Schools Summit.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, who has been sounding the alarm about childhood obesity for four years, is backing the effort to get schools to do more to teach children to eat well and get more exercise.

He will serve as chairman of the summit, which will be held Oct. 7-8 in Washington, D.C. He announced the effort, which brings together 30 federal agencies and health, education and nutrition organizations, Wednesday at the National Press Club.

"We are hoping that by bringing people together who are concerned about this issue and have different abilities to impact it (that) we can come out of the conference with the kind of strategies that people can . . . take back home," Satcher told The Chronicle.

"If they go back to their communities prepared to lead, I think the conference will have achieved its goals," added Satcher, who was appointed surgeon general by President Bill Clinton and served until earlier this year. Currently a fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, Satcher will become director of the new National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse University in Atlanta in September.

The number of seriously overweight children in the United States has doubled since 1980 -- a problem Satcher first called an epidemic in 1998. At the same time, diabetes has soared among children, and federal health authorities estimate hospital costs associated with obesity-related conditions have tripled to $127 million.

Nutritionists like Joanne Ikeda, at UC Berkeley, said schools are critical to efforts to improve children's health and fitness. A national summit, she said, can only help.

"It will certainly draw attention to the problem and the need to do something about it," said Ikeda, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health, which has a new program called Children and Weight and What Communities Can Do.

"Whether it's getting soft drinks out of schools or getting more parks . . .

unless communities see this as a problem they want to help fix, they're not going to put any effort in," she said.

Students want their schools to give them healthier food choices and more time for physical activity, according to a poll of 1,038 student leaders that was made public at Satcher's event Wednesday. The poll was conducted at a National Association of Student Councils conference in June.

Among its results: Big majorities of students polled say they learn better when they eat healthy foods and get exercise.

Only 35 percent said their "school environment helps students eat healthy," and 62 percent thought schools should teach kids more about the value of exercise.

However, although most wanted "more healthy food options" at school, only about a third wanted junk food eliminated.

To deal with budget shortfalls, many schools have cut physical education programs and have contracted with snack-food vendors. Satcher said the choices may make sense at the time, but society pays a high price down the line in chronic health problems brought on by obesity.

The summit, he said, will help make that connection and perhaps create the public will to better support schools.

Although schools aren't the only front in the fight against obesity, Satcher said, they are important because they reach students from all backgrounds.

"Students will learn good health habits and take them back into the home," he said.

More information about the summit can be found at


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