U.S. Schools Getting Better at Boosting Kids' Health

FRIDAY, Oct. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Although U.S. schools have made strides with programs to promote the health and safety of students -- particularly in the areas of nutrition, physical activity and tobacco use -- there's still room for significant improvement.

So says a new report, School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) 2006, issued Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Since the release of the previous SHPPS in 2000, America's schools have made significant progress in removing junk food, offering more physical activity opportunities, and establishing policies that prohibit tobacco use," CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding said in a prepared statement. "Our goal with this report is to provide health and education officials with useful information that will help them develop and improve programs that can have significant benefit for our school-aged children."

Dr. David Appel, director of the Montefiore Medical Center's School Health Program in New York City, said the report is encouraging, because it shows progress is being made in the push to improve children's health. But childhood obesity remains a major concern, he said.

"This [report] is confirming that the awareness of a huge health problem -- of children growing up overweight -- is beyond people just being told about it, that there's real evidence that action is being taken and momentum is building up."

But, he added, "It's a little humbling to see that the number of schools that are serving water is now up to 46 percent. Why isn't it 100 percent? A lot of the areas where there's progress are areas that need to be 100 percent."

The report, to be published in the October issue of the Journal of School Health, is the third in a series, with the first two conducted in 2000 and 1994. The review is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind. And it covers many issues pertaining to overweight and obesity, which, Appel said, are "becoming the number one problem among school children. I think the health effects of children being overweight will be as great -- or greater -- than the impact of cigarette smoking."

Among the report's findings:

  • The number of states prohibiting junk foods in vending machines in schools rose from 8 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2006; the percentage of school districts with such prohibitions rose from 4 percent to 30 percent during the same time frame.
  • 46 percent of schools sold water in vending machines or school stores in 2006, up from 30 percent in 2000.
  • 12 percent of states required elementary schools to provide regularly scheduled recesses in 2006, up from 4 percent in 2000; the percentage of school districts with this requirement rose from 46 percent to 57 percent.
  • Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of schools prohibited tobacco use in all school locations, including off-campus, and school-sponsored events in 2006, compared to 46 percent in 2000.
  • 25 percent of schools had vending machines with cookies, cakes and other high-fat baked goods in 2006, versus 38 percent in 2000.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of schools offered salads a la carte in 2006, compared with 53 percent in 2000.
  • 19 percent of schools offered French fries a la carte in 2006, down from 40 percent in 2000.

That's the good news. The 2006 review also turned up some less-heartening news:

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