Should Schools Be Responsible for Childhood Obesity Prevention?

No. No. No.

According to Emily Richmond, Kaiser Permanente recently conducted a nationwide survey and found that 90 percent of respondents believed schools should “play a role in reducing obesity in their community” and 64 percent supported it being “a major role.”

Richmond also notes that The American Medical Association has recommended that K-12 students be taught about the dangers of obesity and supported using revenue from proposed taxes on sugary sodas to help schools pay for such educational programs.

Mayor Bloomberg, at least, would be down with that.

Sixty-four percent of the public and the AMA are wrong. Schools absolutely should not be responsible for childhood obesity prevention.

With every societal problem teachers take on, public criticism of their work, already considerable, will increase. That’s because they’ll have less time to teach students to read, write, and ‘rithmatic and any progress in solving the problem will be so slow as to be imperceptible. A double whammy.

No one asks whether doctors should be responsible for cancer prevention because they’ve done a great job of saying there are many contributing factors—genetics, nutrition, smoking, environmental factors, etc.—and no cure in the foreseeable future. Teachers should eschew their built-in altruism and say, “Enough already. We love our students, but many things are outside of our control and we refuse to be substitute parents.”

Feel free to disagree, just explain where we should draw the line. Should schools be responsible for making sure students brush their teeth regularly, floss, make their beds, leave campsites nicer than they find them, get adequate sleep, exercise, limit television, avoid violent video games, and never ever text or post anything unkind on Facebook?

When considering a blurring of the lines between schooling and public health, it’s important to remember that students spend approximately 23% of the time that they’re awake each year in school. Richmond hits a homerun here:

As the Las Vegas Sun’s education reporter, I did some quality control spot checks at various campuses after Nevada’s junk food ban was passed. I found that bottled water and graham crackers had indeed replaced the sports drinks and chocolate bars — with one notable exception: the machines in the faculty lounges were fully stocked with the familiar array of candy, chips and sugary sodas. That the ban didn’t extend to the adults on campus illustrates the larger challenge facing schools, families, and communities as a whole.

Amen. Until adults figure out how to eat and live more healthily no amount of in-school teaching or behavior mod will have any kind of lasting effect. The only guaranteed outcome is a further devaluing of teachers.