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Update on Efforts to Combat Childhood Obesity


Crafted by Ben Schmauss, Government Relations Director, Nevada

It has been an incredible last 6 months working as the Gov. Relations Director in Nevada for the American Heart Association. I have worked on issues related to CPR in Schools, heart screenings for newborns, healthy vending, smoke free communities, and obesity to name a few.

I have been in the public health and education field for the better part of my 10 year career and the last 5 years I have worked directly with K-12 schools addressing childhood obesity. Yet I never fully understood how everything affects the heart. Prevention is the key and children are the future.

The United States, including Nevada, is in the midst of a full-blown obesity epidemic and this public health crisis includes youngsters. Currently, one third of our youth are overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in children are stunning. Research shows that an obese child’s arteries resemble those of a middle-aged adult and overweight adolescents have an overwhelming chance of becoming obese adults. These children are being condemned to an early future of cardiovascular disease, disability, and possible death.

There has never been a more critical time to address and improve the environment where children spend the majority of their waking hours – school.  Schools need to be part of the solution by establishing an environment that fosters a foundation of healthy behaviors in the next generation of children. One way schools can do this is by providing nutrition education and ensuring that the school environment promotes healthy eating habits and physical activity.

In December 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act became law, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods, called competitive foods, sold on school campuses throughout the school day. These provisions will help schools give children the jump start they need for long, healthy lives.

For the past 4 months I have been participating in the Nevada Statewide Wellness Policy Revision that aims to update our current policy to meet the new federal “Smart Snacks” guidelines established in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.  These revisions will help foster a healthy school environment in the following ways:

  • It will eliminate unhealthy fundraisers during school hours
  • It will ban carbonated beverages from being sold on school grounds
  • It requires that food sold on school properties meet nutritional standards established by the USDA
  • This policy defines physical activity and outlines guidelines for students having the opportunity to move daily.

This wellness policy revision is a good start to creating a healthier tomorrow but there is still room for state and local advocacy to bolster our laws and policies around the health and wellness of children.  To help, please contact our Grassroots Director – Josh Brown.

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