Policies Keeping Us Fat

A viral article from Highline is breaking the internet. A variety of bloggers and readers are talking about “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong” as they share, comment, and recommend it as a “must-read” piece. The big takeaway?

“You see this in so much of the research: The most effective health interventions aren't actually health interventions—they are policies that ease the hardship of poverty and free up time for movement and play and parenting.”

“What’s so groundbreaking about this idea?” one might ask. “Of course we want these things for American families.” But the groundbreaking information here is the article calls for an American attitude change. It encourages citizens not to jump to judgemental conclusions about obese people, arguing that the issue here isn’t counting calories or preferring Netflix to a jog. Instead, the story asks readers to take a hard look at larger community concepts, like the American food industry and suburban sprawl, that play major roles in the health of our citizens. And these are issues beyond the control of personal lives.

At Effective Ed, we discuss topics related to the environment and education, but these issues are also about the health of American society. And this research points to some of our same conclusions, “The cardiovascular risks of sedentary lifestyles, suburban sprawl and long commutes are well-documented. But rather than help mitigate these risks—and their disproportionate impact on the poor—our institutions have exacerbated them. Only 13 percent of American children walk or bike to school; once they arrive, less than a third of them will take part in a daily gym class. Among adults, the number of workers commuting more than 90 minutes each way…”

In other words, it’s less about a large part of our country choosing McDonald’s, but instead it describes forced family rhythms where there is no time or money for anything BUT McDonald’s. Or as explained by Highline, “For 40 years, as politicians have told us to eat more vegetables and take the stairs instead of the elevator, they have presided over a country where daily exercise has become a luxury and eating well has become extortionate.”

Highline calls for better treatment and sincere understanding for those in our communities struggling with obesity, but it also argues for the importance of changing the policies and infrastructures that only allow the wealthy to practice healthy living. Effective Ed believes we have an answer to that call - allow people to attend the schools that give them the healthiest lifestyle. Where children attend school, especially in relation to their neighborhood or parental employment, can completely change a family’s daily rhythms. But too often, children are forced to attend schools that are not nearby or families are pushed out of districts near their employment due to the failing conditions of a local school.

Another health benefit of allowing more families the opportunity to attend charter or private schools is the number of children who participate in sports programs.  Due to school sizes, a larger percentage of children at charter and private schools can take part in sports activities. As noted by the article, these school-based activities can make a significant impact on lifestyle:

"A review of 44 international studies found that school-based activity programs ...improved their athletic ability, tripled the amount of time they spent exercising and reduced their daily TV consumption by up to an hour. Another survey showed that two years of getting kids to exercise and eat better ... did improve their math scores—an effect that was greater for black kids than white kids."

Allowing families to identify the schools that best fit their needs and rhythms is a step towards helping families have “free time for movement, play, and parenting.” If this article has struck a chord with you today, consider sharing our research with your local officials. Healthier families mean a healthier America.

Image via Jonas Forth