If taking a class could make people lose weight, there would be lines around the block to get in.
The number of overweight or obese youngsters in Kansas probably is a legitimate cause for concern, but the idea that the state can legislate a solution to it borders on comical. Nonetheless, state health experts are urging the Legislative Educational Planning Committee to come up with measures that will increase physical education and nutrition instruction for Kansas children.
We can teach health in schools; we can teach nutrition. We can offer prizes to children who turn in cards supposedly verifying that they've engaged in physical activity. But does that mean we can produce a leaner or healthier generation of young people?
Health, physical education and nutrition have been taught in school for generations. Interestingly, some of the lessons taught to students 40 or 50 years ago now have been proven wrong. Maybe the current lessons will be more accurate or have more staying power, but the lessons taught to the parents and grandparents of today's students haven't produced a generation of fit and slim adults.
The effort to fight "obesity" also poses a risk of overemphasizing weight control. With some discipline and incentive, most people can attain a certain level of fitness through exercise and diet, but not everyone can be as slender as an athlete or super model. Advocates seem focused on the right ideas when they talk about health and nutrition education, but it's important to send young people the message that being healthy doesn't always mean being skinny.
Some observers also have made the point that putting pressure on schools to address the obesity trend isn't fair. Don't schools and teachers already have enough responsibilities? Children can learn all about nutrition in the classroom, but they eat the majority of their meals away from school with parents who may lack the time or knowledge to follow through on healthy lifestyle initiatives. Parents who can't find time to exercise for their own health probably won't make time to share workout activities with their children.
Education and awareness are important but knowing what you should do and doing it clearly are two different things. Living in today's world doesn't require much in the way of physical labor, and the temptations posed by advertising and plentiful high-calorie food are difficult to resist.
Making sure our children have the information to make good choices (when they choose to do so!) is a step in the right direction, but adding weight to the state statute book probably won't be a quick fix for the problem of childhood obesity.