Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
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FAQ

Categories:

  1. Advertising in Schools
  2. BMI Reporting
  3. Class Parties
  4. Communities
  5. Food Rewards
  6. Fundraising
  7. Physical Education
  8. School Lunches
  9. Wellness Policies

1. Advertising in Schools

Should there be healthy food advertisements?

Sure, as long as they are actually for healthy foods. We’d like to see students encouraged to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and not just slightly healthier versions of processed snack foods.

What should financially-strapped schools do if they cannot accept corporate sponsorship from food companies?

A number of organizations detail ideas for revenue generation for schools. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has some great suggestions; visit their site at http://www.cspinet.org. Many schools have raised this concern. While we are sympathetic to the plight of under-funded districts, it is never acceptable to balance the budget to the detriment of the health of our children


2. BMI Reporting

What is the Rudd Center’s opinion of BMI report cards: good thing, or bad thing?

See the BMI section of this site.

I heard that BMI is only a useful tool for evaluating populations, not individuals. So how can we measure obesity in the individual?
Assessing whether or not a child has a weight problem is something that should be done by the child's pediatrician with parental input. Many factors should be taken into account, including the child's weight trajectory (i.e., BMI percentile over time), eating behaviors, physical activity level, and other medical indicators.

Is there a systematic way of distinguishing unhealthily overweight children that does not use BMI?

A child's BMI percentile is currently considered the most reliable screening tool for childhood obesity. Other measures may be useful, such as percent body fat, hip-to-waist ratio, and physical fitness measures, but these are less commonly used due to the fact that they are more complicated to measure.


3. Class Parties

I want to celebrate my child’s birthday by baking cupcakes for him and all his friends. It’s my child—what gives schools the right to forbid this?

It is understandable that you want to help celebrate your child's birthday, but it is important to recognize that the school is a public place and you are not the only parent who entrusts their child to the school's care. Schools need to meet the needs of all children, and sometimes that means setting limits to what individual children (or their parents) can do.

My child hates fruits and vegetables; how else can I give him a birthday treat without baking cupcakes or cookies?

For a birthday party in your home, you can probably think of ways to make every day foods more fun. You could make mini-pizza's and decorate them with toppings that make a smiley face or pattern, you could have a make-your-own taco bar or pasta bar and let everyone create their own dish.

For a school party, the best bet would be a non-food treat. Kids love small toys or even events, such as having you come in to read a book, sing a song, or play a game with the class. A friend of mine bought Chinese jumpropes into her daughter's class, gave one to each child and taught them how to play. It was a huge success and no one mentioned missing cupcakes at all!

If I bring a veggie plate to celebrate my child’s birthday, won’t he be mercilessly teased?

You would be surprised. I walked into my child's class with a cut up watermelon and the kids were absolutely thrilled to have it for a snack. Kids get excited about anything different or special; it's the parents who tend to worry too much.

What could possibly be a valid substitute for birthday cupcakes?

See our resource on non-food treats.


4. Communities

What is the built environment, and what does it have to do with obesity?

See the section on the Built Environment.


5. Food Rewards

What is the effect of using food as a reward?

When we reward with food, we increase liking for that particular food. The problem here is that we tend to reward with unhealthy foods (cookies, candy) for which children already have great liking, so we are further increasing preferences for foods children should be eating less of. Here’s a thought: try rewarding with broccoli!

What about withholding food as punishment? It seems to be a very effective disciplining method.

In general, using food to control behaviors is associated with an unhealthy relationship with food in later life, so we don’t recommend it.

See Food Rules in Home Environment.


6. Fundraising

What are some fundraising ideas that do not involve the sale of junk food?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a terrific handout on this topic, which can be downloaded at http://www.cspinet.org/schoolfoodkit/school_foods_kit_part2.pdf.

Here are some highlights:

  • Host a walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon, dance-a-thon… whatever kind of “thon” catches your fancy
  • Hold a raffle
  • Rent-a-teen helper (e.g., for yard work)
  • Craft sales
  • Car wash
  • Host a treasure hunt/scavenger hunt
  • Recycle cans/bottles/paper

7. Physical Education

How frequent should gym classes be?

We believe that students should be physically active each day during the school day. This might take the form of a gym class, but could be outside formal instruction in the form of a couple of active recess periods or periods of physical activity of choice.

How long should a gym class be?

The length of the gym period is not as critical as the amount of time that the children spend active. Research has demonstrated that the average physical education class includes only 7 minutes of actual physical activity! However long the gym period, we encourage instructors to have the entire period be as active as possible.

What about time requirements for recess?

Some states have legislation mandating recess periods, at least for elementary schools; others do not. The mandate is often for 20 minutes per day. We believe this to be a minimally acceptable duration. But what is truly important is support for an active recess, which means that children must be provided with safe equipment and space, and careful supervision.

My child is overweight and gets bullied during gym class. What can I do to encourage him to still participate in PE activities?

Most schools in the country recognize bullying as a serious problem and many have taken an active approach to eliminating it. However, weight-related “teasing” or taunting is often not recognized as bullying. If this is happening to your child, bring the problem to the attention of the school. One book that we recommend for parents who are supporting an overweight child is All Shapes and Sizes: Promoting Fitness and Self-Esteem in your Overweight Child by Teresa Pitman and Miriam Kaufman. This book provides helpful tips for parents in these kinds of situations.

Many children do not like PE because they do not get many opportunities to participate or move around or have fun. How can the quality of PE classes be improved?

This complaint can be occurring for a few different reasons, and the source of the problem determines the solution. Some PE classes tend to favor the skilled athletes; if this is the case at your school, speak to the instructors about making PE more accessible to the average child, both in terms of everyone getting playing time and engaging in a range of activities so that there is something appealing for everyone. Some PE classes spend a lot of time on academic instruction so that kids are not moving much; the solution here is to turn the focus to physical activity. If you are a parent or student, don’t be afraid to advocate for a PE class that will contribute to building lifelong, healthy exercise habits.

Should video games like Dance, Dance Revolution be encompassed into PE?

This is a tough one, and a question that has engendered significant debate at the Rudd Center. While we advocate the physical activity component of DDR, we also know that screen time is associated with higher body mass index. At this time, we don’t really know whether the net effect of games such as DDR is positive or negative. That is, are kids who would otherwise just be sitting and watching the screen becoming more active, or are kids who would otherwise not be watching the screen now increasing their screen time? We just don’t know. So for now, we encourage physical activity that does not involve video games. That having been said, we always encourage physical activity that is fun.


8. School Lunches

Even though schools are not providing this food, how do you deal with the fact that children bring lunches in that might (and often) include some junk food?

Schools can provide education and encouragement – via newsletters, websites, and parents’ night – to parents to send healthy lunches and snacks. Some schools have actually initiated policies about what foods can and cannot be brought into the school. There is often outcry at the initiation of such policies. However, we seem to forget that we institute regulations all the time to protect our children, even in school. For example, most schools have some kind of dress code, such that children must be reasonably covered while at school. Regulations about food are not much different.

Doesn’t it make sense to offer children a range of food choices in order to teach them how to make good eating decisions?

Actually, children are able to make good choices when they are presented with a range of healthy options. They are not able to make good choices when presented with both healthy and unhealthy options, because the deck is overwhelmingly loaded (via marketing, flavor, and the biology of appetite) in favor of the unhealthy option. We recommend offering, for example, the choice between an apple and a low-fat yogurt. We don’t recommend offering an apple or a brownie.

See section on Food Rules within Home Environment.

Restricting food access is unrealistic in the real world, so isn’t it better that kids learn good eating habits while in school?

Actually, it is only in very recent history that food access is not restricted in the “real world”; prior to the last decade or so, it was NOT the case that one could obtain food 24-7. The current environment, in which all food is available all the time, is an unhealthy one. There is no evidence that practicing to be in this environment produces skill at navigating it. Thus, we advocate modifying the environment whenever possible. Schools in particular should be a “safe zone”, free from unhealthy influences.

See section on Food Rules within Home Environment.


9. Wellness Policies

What makes a good wellness policy a good one?

There are two components to a good wellness policy - Scope, and Specificity/Strength. The Scope of a policy is an index of what areas are included by the policy. For example, does it cover guidelines for all of the important areas (nutrition education, physical education, physical activity outside of PE, communication and promotion, evaluation, food standards for foods sold as part of the National School Lunch Program, food standards for foods sold or served outside of the NSLP).

The Specificity of the policy is an index of how clear and concrete the guidelines are - in other words, does is say something vague like, "Our school district will only sell or serve healthy snacks to students" without defining "healthy" or does it say, "Our school district will only sell or serve snacks to students that meet the 2007 Institute of Medicine a la carte nutrition standards for elementary and middle schools."

The Strength of a policy in an index of how strong the language is in the policy. For example, does it say "Our school district will strive to encourage parents to send in only non-food treats to celebrate children's birthdays in school" or does it say, "Our school district prohibits all food treats from home for classroom celebrations." What are some examples of effective wellness policies?

There are examples of comprehensive and strong wellness policies that were developed by NANA. Current research at the Rudd Center is also identifying strong policies from Connecticut.

What are your suggestions for how to create good wellness policies?

It's important to have all of the relevant people at the table. In particular, administrators and teachers need to be involved and engaged in the process if the policy is going to be enforced. The district should follow the federal guidelines on who to include on the committee.

A good policy uses strong and specific language. It needs to be clear to parents and teachers in the district what can be expected in the school environment. I like to imagine a parent walking into the Board of Education with the policy in hand and a question about something that is happening in his or her child's school. Is the policy written clearly enough to provide an answer to the parent as to whether the school is or is not in compliance with the policy? A good policy will provide clear answers.

How can we teach children and teenagers to eat healthfully without encouraging eating disordered behavior?

A common misconception is that efforts to promote healthy eating will encourage eating disordered behavior. In fact, there is no evidence to support this. The key is to focus on promoting an environment in which it is easy to eat well - children and teens should be surrounded by opportunities to eat healthy foods and should not be surrounded by nutritionally poor foods. It is not helpful to put a bag of chips and an apple in front of a child and say, "OK, choose the right one." Instead, you should put a fresh and appetizing apple, an orange, and banana in front of the child, and say, "choose your favorite."