Writing Contest: First Place - Essays

Childhood Obesity in America

David Mytnick, North Ridgeville High School, North Ridgeville, OH (Teacher: Lucky Varouh)

Obesity in America's youth today is a growing problem. $122.9 billion is being paid annually in America for health treatment for obesity-related illnesses and deaths. Over 75% of that is from our nation's children under the age of 18. These costs will continue increasing into the future, causing many economic woes for our citizens if something isn't done to reverse the rising obesity now. Over the past decade, over 400,000 deaths a year were caused by obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart attacks. In 2004, obesity was ranked the number one health risk facing Americans by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is still in the top group for causes of death. Children today are more overweight and obese than ever before, and it is largely because of today's school systems. The schools have things in place that indirectly and unintentionally encourage an overweight lifestyle and give kids very easy access to unhealthy foods that are high in fats and calories. This has caused over 15% of people under the age of 18 to be considered obese, meaning that over 30% of their body weight is made up of excess fat. This causes a lack of motivation and self-esteem in our youth, and that will in turn cause a lower amount of energy focused on school work. This can also create a number of problems for them later in life, especially an increased risk for many diseases, and is affecting more and more children each year.

There are two regulations I would suggest being put in motion to help fix this issue. They would both change a school's emphasis on health for the students. The first would teach children the dangers of unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle. This would simply require a few small changes to the American school system. The first change would be in the classes offered and required in American public schools. Today, many schools offer electives that teach about healthy eating habits and how to live a healthy life. These electives are only taken by a fraction of the students, and that leaves many of them without that knowledge. Many schools also make physical education classes only needed for two of the four years a student is in high school. The first regulation would make these nutrition-based electives mandatory to graduate, similar to a second health class credit. Many schools already have health as a required subject, but it teaches about drugs, STDs, and emergency situations such as using CPR and handling natural disasters such as tornados. The health classes have little to no focus on healthy eating and exercising habits. The regulation would also make physical education required for all four years of high school, and not exempt the class for student athletes, regardless of the number of school sports they participate in. These changes would create a more active lifestyle for the students as well as give them the knowledge needed to stay healthy after they graduate.

My second regulation would be to change the lunches at school. Many schools in the nation offer lunches that are much too high in calories and fats, while being much too low in vitamins and minerals that students need to be healthy. The regulation would require school lunches to be approved by the FDA for total fats, proteins, sugars, dietary fiber, vitamins A, B-family, C, D, and K, and minerals such as calcium and iron. The lunches would require a very high nutrient-to-calorie ratio, and a low fat and sugar amount. This would also ban the drinking of sodas from schools, as well as high-sugar "energy drinks" such as Monster and Red Bull, because the high amounts of sugar in those beverages cause a sudden spike of insulin, which causes an increase of fat storage in the body.

The benefits of these regulations greatly outweigh the costs. They will drop childhood obesity and cause the future leaders of our nation to live longer and healthier lives. The only opportunity costs are those represented by the change in school lunches, which can be offset by a minor increase in local taxes, which will be more affordable when students' parents will be spending less on medical bills, as the healthier foods will also increase the students' immune systems and decrease even non-obesity-related illnesses. In addition to the slight tax increase, schools can be helped to afford the new lunches by having FDA-approved lunches come with a discounted price when schools buy them. Once students start eating healthier and participate in more active lives, they will begin getting into better physical condition, and that will cause an increase in confidence and energy, which will help them in their academics as well. There are truly very few downsides compared to the many positive changes these two regulations will create.