Student Well-Being

American Medical Association Pushes for Obesity Instruction in Schools

By Bryan Toporek — June 21, 2012 2 min read
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In response to the ongoing U.S. childhood obesity epidemic, the American Medical Association voted Wednesday at its annual meeting to support “meaningful yearly instruction” about nutrition and the causes of youth obesity for K-12 students.

In addition, the AMA adopted a policy that recognizes the potential of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to raise funding for obesity education programs.

“Where taxes are implemented on sugar-sweetened beverages, using revenue for anti-obesity programs and educational campaigns explaining the adverse effects of excessive consumption of these beverages will help to reduce the consumption of these caloric beverages and improve public health,” said Dr. Alexander Ding, AMA board member, in a statement.

Before the American Beverage Association gets all defensive, the AMA is quick to note that a number of factors have helped propagate the obesity crisis. The AMA isn’t blaming beverage companies for every obese American, although the organization does cite research that links intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to higher weights.

Regarding the obesity instruction component, the AMA will urge schools and other “appropriate agencies” to provide such yearly instruction to K-12 students. The organization will also encourage doctors to volunteer their time to assist with the instructional efforts around obesity.

The AMA’s Pennsylvania delegation originated the proposal about obesity instruction, according to the Associated Press, noting that a nutrition education requirement for obesity prevention had never before been proposed.

The new AMA policy comes on the heels of a report issued earlier in the month by the Bipartisan Policy Center, which advocated for schools to work to improve nutrition instruction for students. The Center’s report also recommended that schools require a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day for each student, per the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Institute of Medicine also issued a report in May that identified U.S. schools as one of the major focal points for preventing the further spread of obesity.

Last December, a review of studies published in The Cochrane Library found school-based programs that promote healthy eating and physical fitness to be beneficial in helping prevent youth obesity. Notably, those same programs weren’t found to have had a harmful effect on any of the students.

“We think the strategies to focus on are those that seek to change environments, rather than just the behavior of individuals,” said the author of the review, Elizabeth Waters, in a statement.

It’s too early to tell what impact the AMA’s policy will have on K-12 schools, especially in the next few years.

However, the momentum for involving schools in obesity prevention tactics appears to only be growing.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.