The obesity epidemic among elementary school-age children is growing, with about one out of three children now considered overweight or obese (Nemours Foundation, 2009b). Obesity is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI) which uses weight and height to calculate a number that can be used as a surrogate for body fat percentage (Centers for Disease Control [CDC], n.d.). To determine whether a child is overweight, his or her BMI can be plotted on one of the BMI Growth Charts that are published by the Centers for Disease control (CDC). A child whose weight is at the 85th to just below the 95th percentile is considered overweight. A child whose weight is at the 95th percentile or higher is considered obese.
Obesity in the U.S. is now being seen in very young children. The rates are race-specific. In one study of four-year-olds, Native Americans and Native Alaskans had the highest rates of obesity (31%), Hispanics, Blacks, and Caucasians had progressively lower rates (22%, 21%, and 16% respectively), and Asians had the lowest rates (13%) (Anderson & Whitaker, 2009). The study revealed that a large proportion of children are already overweight by the time they begin school.
Schools are faced with the challenge of helping children keep their weight within a healthy range. Implementing physical education programs can help. According to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Physical Education and Health Web site (n.d.), physical education is "a course in the curriculum which utilizes learning in the cognitive, affective and psycho motor domains in a play or movement exploration setting." By allotting time for physical education in each grade's curriculum and choosing age-appropriate activities, schools can help manage childhood obesity and the physical and emotional problems that come with it.
Obesity affects children in many of the same ways that it affects adults. A USA Today article (2008) lists the physica...