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
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
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
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
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