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AMA Policies on Childhood Obesity — an article on the Smart Living Network
November 25, 2010 at 1:00 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

AMA Policies on Childhood Obesity


Childhood obesity has been a focus of attention recently. With statistics showing a growing trend in overweight children, many people are trying to figure out the best approach to solve the problem. The American Medical Association (AMA) has issued a series of policies to inform people of their recommendations. This article breaks the policies down by category: physical activity, diet, child education, public education, and research.

Adequate Physical Activity

Besides a balanced diet of nutritious foods, physical activity is a major part of a child's health. Here are the AMA's guidelines for Adequate Physical Activity. Guideline #1: "Meaningful and mandatory physical education programs for all children, including the handicapped, in K-12 schools, conducted by qualified personnel." In Guideline #1, the AMA is outlining a school's responsibility to help children physically as well as mentally. Unless there is a medical reason why a child cannot participate in a physical education class, daily activity will provide various forms of essential exercise. The activity can range in intensity and does not have to consist of technical drills. Exercises and sports are both considered to be effective at encouraging children to increase their body's mobility and flexibility. There are two key factors in Guideline #1. First, it makes a point to include handicapped students. All children should be given the same chance to benefit from consistent physical activity. Regardless of their fitness level or condition, every child deserves to experience the positive effects of a solid physical education program. The second area of interest in Guideline #1 is the specification that classes should be taught by "qualified personnel." Although basic activities can be understood by a number of fitness teachers, it is important to have a professional who is trained in physical education. In addition to helping students perform the movements correctly, an experienced teacher will know how to handle any injuries or incidents that could occur. Guideline #2: "At least 30 minutes of daily free play or physical education in elementary school." Guideline #2 is an extension of the first guideline with a clarification. According to the AMA, 30 minutes is the amount of time elementary schools should allow for their physical education classes. This corresponds to the general recommended amount of physical activity for adults, which is 30 minutes each day for 4 to 5 days a week. Again, the form of exercise can be selected from a variety of different types. Children naturally have energy and it is necessary for that energy to be used. If it remains stored or unused, the child might begin gaining weight. Obesity can be significantly reduced and the best way to prevent it is by teaching students about the importance of quality fitness. The beginning steps take place at home, and elementary schools that follow the AMA's guidelines will be continuing the introduction of healthy ways to stay active. Guideline #3: "Family-oriented education about the benefits of physical activity." As explained above, the family of a child is vital in that child's development. Physical activity can be enjoyed by all of the members in a family. It is fun and motivating, while giving everyone more energy, an improved outlook on life, and a boost in self-confidence. Once a child experiences the tremendous benefits of physical activity, they will be more interested in it when they attend school. Through a combined effort of parents and schools, children will be healthier and happier in every stage of their lives.

Healthy Eating

According to the mission statement of the American Medical Association (AMA), the organization's goal is to "promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health." This is a worthwhile pursuit, especially when it involves the health and safety of America's children. Because a child's diet is incredibly important in this regard, the AMA, has outlined very specific policy guidelines on healthy eating. Guideline #1: "Evidence-based nutrition standards for all food (including a la carte, snack bar, and vending machine offerings) served and sold in K-12 schools." It is clear that the AMA is not satisfied with a school that simply has a few health items on their menu. They are looking for actual evidence that proves a food's nutritional value. No matter what grade a child is in (from K-12), the AMA thinks that they should be given foods that are intended to promote an optimal level of health. This includes items served at snack bars and vending machines as well as the main cafeteria of public schools. Guideline #2: "Provision of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, vegetarian foods, and healthful beverages in school lunch programs." Besides the general food policy in the first guideline, the AMA details exactly which foods are acceptable in Guideline #2. Specifically, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains are on the list because they are well known for their healthy benefits. The approved drinks would be those that most likely have a limited sugar content. And it is important to the AMA that vegetarian families be accommodated within the school lunch program. Guideline #3: "Banning food commercials aimed at children." If a child does not know about a type of food that the AMA considers unhealthy, they will not be asking for it nearly as much. Although the intention is to eliminate a child's exposure to potentially harmful foods, this guideline is controversial for a few reasons. Some parents feel that it is their responsibility to manage their children's diets. They object to an organization's attempt to interfere with the things that children can or cannot see. For example, if a parent chooses to treat their children to a fast food restaurant, that is their right. As long as it is not an every day occurrence, the child will not suffer any serious ill consequences. Unfortunately, there are too many irresponsible parents who do choose to allow their children to eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis, prompting the AMA's interference. The line between parenting and federal regulations is becoming less and less definite. In addition to the above concerns, Guideline #3 raises many questions. Which foods will the AMA decide should have their television commercials banned? Will children no longer be able to even see what a hamburger or hot dog looks like in the future? Are potato chips too unhealthy to be witnessed by them? These questions have a lot of parents wondering about what effect the policies of the AMA would really have. Others have the opposite point of view. To them, having a set of rules and guidelines would be better because it would lessen their own responsibility as a parent or child. Being told what to eat and what not to eat is much easier than making the decisions on your own. However, shouldn't the AMA also be focused on teaching people the benefits of healthy eating so that people will make better choices? Overall, the approach of banning foods and/or commercials might seem like an extreme solution to a problem that is based on knowledge and personal responsibility. Guideline #4: "Improved nutritional quality, and nutritional information on menus and menu boards, in chain restaurants." Most chain restaurants have begun to offer nutritional meals on their menu. It is common to see calorie counts during advertisements or at the restaurant. The AMA would like to see an increase in these practices on a wide scale. Again, this issue touches on how a business sells to their customers. In an ideal world, everyone would automatically have a desire to be healthy and they would make the choices that would lead to that goal. Then, no matter how much unhealthy food was offered to them, an informed decision would be made. Obesity is a huge problem in the country because of the poor choices being made, not because of the food options available. Although, the increased availability and prevalence of fast food have made those bad choices the easier ones. This is the argument. There is no doubt that something must be done to put children on the right track to healthy eating before they develop habits that could damage their body in the long term. As the debate between individual responsibility and the AMA's guidelines continues, it is ultimately a person's thoughts and actions that matter the most. It will take a balance of knowledge and parental guidance to ensure the health of American children.

Physical Education

Exercise and physical activity are crucial for children of all shapes and sizes, especially those that are considered obese. The Importance of Physical Education One of the biggest obstacles to a healthier way of life is inactivity. If the body does not move or experience physical activity, it will be more prone to illnesses and less effective in protecting against various diseases. Years ago, children had the chance to spend more time exercising, even if they did not necessarily know it. They would play outside, ride bicycles, participate in sports, etc. Now, times have changed, and children are spending their time in other ways, such as using the internet or playing video games. These sedentary activities limit their amount of exercise, and make it difficult for their bodies to receive the essential movement they need. Besides the change in activity preference, there is also a safety issue. Children that play outside must be supervised by parents at all times to ensure their safety, so it might not be as convenient for them to get as much outdoor exercise as it once was. All of the above circumstances increase the value of quality physical education in schools. Since the level of exercise in extra curricular activities has been lowered, a physical education class might be the only form of fitness a child receives during the day. Therefore, it is important that the classes be designed to benefit the children in the best way possible. The AMA and Physical Education In an attempt to improve the physical education in public schools, the AMA has offered the following suggestion: "Comprehensive programs and activities in elementary and secondary schools to help young people develop the skills needed to choose healthy dietary patterns and adequate physical activity" The focus of the above statement is to provide children with the information to make healthy choices in both diet and exercise. If students are encouraged to actively eat nutritious foods and exercise, it will be easier for them to maintain a normal weight. Although most people understand the benefits of eating healthy and exercising, the AMA thinks that reinforcing those ideas in school will lead to significant results across the country.

Public Education and Research

In addition to the guidelines and suggestions about diet and exercise, continuing research and education are key to improving the health of U.S. children. Public Education One of the biggest factors in preventing obesity is public awareness. If more people know the damaging consequences of poor diet choices, they have a better chance to stay in shape. The AMA's policy on public education includes two clauses.: Guideline #1: "Educating physicians about the prevention and management of overweight and obesity in children, including physical activity and nutrition assessment and counseling methods" Here, the AMA is suggesting that physicians be further educated so they will better understand how to prevent and manage childhood obesity. Although a reaction from physicians has not been officially released, the idea that they require additional education could be perceived as somewhat offensive. The regulation implies that physicians are not currently prepared to handle the issue of childhood obesity. Most family doctors are very aware of the risks of obesity and they advise parents and children of those risks during their visits. It is the parents' decision to select the food for their children. Physicians can only suggest diet guidelines; they cannot impose lifestyle choices for their patients. Therefore, the AMA's implication that physicians are insufficiently trained in the area of obesity may be based on a false assumption. Still, many doctors operate on the appearance of symptoms, and may not think to talk to parents of young and slender children about the possibilities of childhood obesity. Encouragement of more discussion is likely a valid idea. Guideline #2: "Routine determination of body mass index (BMI) percentiles in children" Regular screenings of BMI in children might give physicians extra information to support their diet recommendations. If the parent can see a number that corresponds to the unhealthy status of their child, the effort to correct the situation could be elevated. Overall, motivation and discipline are the underlining keys to placing children back on the right track with their health. Research The Research section of the AMA's policies for childhood obesity calls for "more research on the relative efficacy of clinical and public health interventions to prevent, diagnose, treat, and manage overweight and obesity." As with any medical issue, research is beneficial to discovering options in treatment. With more research for childhood obesity, it is unknown how much new information would be uncovered. Some think that the problem is simple because of the existing knowledge about health, nutrition, exercise, etc. Others feel that there is always more to learn and the study of obesity could lead to more effective counter-practices. Interestingly, the AMA's policies for both the public education and research of childhood obesity would require funding. Training physicians and conducting research tests need people and materials. The funding is most likely to be provided by the government. Of course, this would mean the allocation of taxpayer dollars into both projects. While the problem of childhood obesity cannot be denied or ignored, the solution is still a source of debate between doctors, organizations, and government officials. Basically, the question is whether or not people would support a raise of taxes in order to explore alternate ways of dealing with obesity. While the suggestions of the AMA are generally good and well-structured, it is uncertain that everyone involved will support them wholeheartedly. It is important to remember that the most important thing in all of this is the health of our children, as well as how that health will affect the future of our country. Some investment now could mean a healthier country - and lower health costs - in decades to come. Of course, such an undertaking takes time and money, and ultimately, it will be up to individuals to support and implement such a movement. Sources:

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