Submitted by: Leslie Culpepper

Chapter 2: Physical Development and Health

Obesity and Other Eating Disorders

concept map

Since 1970, the amount of overweight children has tripled in the US (Bergin &Bergin, 2012). The World Health Organization acknowledged obesity as one of the number one health problems in developed nations (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

Should this concern us? Absolutely! As teachers this problem of obesity is very concerning. Students that are obese are prone to have lower test scores than their peers that are slimmer, they are more apt to be held back a grade and they are less likely to go to college (Gardner, 2012). Obesity is linked to sleep apnea and can cause social and emotional problems (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  Children that are obese are prone to be lonely, depressed, anxious, lacking in self control and are less likable by peers (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). Imagine that you are a child that has low self-esteem, are not sleeping at night because of sleep apnea and depressed because you have no friends. Now try to concentrate on school. Having all of these added factors makes it very hard to focus on school and reach your highest potential.

Researchers from the University of Missouri looked at data from more than 6,000 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study- Kindergarten Cohort (Conley, 2012). They gathered information from children who were starting kindergarten and followed them through fifth grade (Conley, 2012). Those students who were obese throughout the length of the study achieved lower scores on math tests compared to the children who were not obese (Conley, 2012). Obese students that are sad or anxious might have a more difficult time paying attention and are less likely to ask a question if they don’t understand (Gardner, 2012). The health risks associated with obesity might also interfere with schoolwork or cause students to miss class altogether because of asthma, diabetes or sleep disorders (Gardner, 2012).

In a recent study, obese children rated their quality of life and showed scores as low as children with cancer on chemotherapy (Baron & Marcus, 2010). If that doesn’t get you thinking about how we can do our part to decrease the number of obese children, what will?

As educators, what can we do to help with this epidemic?

We can be positive role models and eat healthy foods in front of our children. We can encourage fitness and demonstrate a healthy diet. We can let overweight students know that they are treasured no matter what their weight is to help with their self-esteem. We can be creative and add physical education into lessons. Maybe you could find a fun way to incorporate physical activity in your classroom.


Baron A. & Marcus, L. (2010, December 8) The Effects of Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Childhood_Obesity/?page=3

Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Conley, M. (2012, June 14). Childhood Obesity Affects Math Performance. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/childhood-obesity-affects-math-performance/story?id=16559097

Gardner, A. (2012, June 14). Does Obesity Affect School Performance?. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/14/health/obesity-affect-school-performance

Discussion Questions:

What can you do to encourage healthy living at your student’s home or in the community?

Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?

Does your school currently have a program to promote exercise and health?

Have you personally witnessed a child suffer in academics because of obesity?

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13 Responses to Obesity

  1. anonymous50 says:

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?

    Even as a teacher of traditional English in middle school, I was able to find opportunites for physical activity, believe it or not. When reading Julius Caesar in sixth grade or Cyrano de Bergerac in 7th grade, for instance, we would often stand and act out the scenes (Ceasar’s betrayal and Cyrano’s swashbuckling being the favorites), instead of reading from our seats. When we were reviewing for a test, we would make up silly dance moves to accompany the answers or play a form of “Sparkle” to get everyone out of their seats. And, to review a grammar chapter, we would have what we called “Diagramming Wars”, dividing the class into teams, with members writing, labeling, and diagramming the sentences (which were sometimes rather complicated, taking up half the whiteboard) in relay fashion. It grew quite competitive at times, with students running to the board and their teammates all on their feet, hopping nervously, shouting encouragements. Anyone walking by would not have guessed they were viewing a sentence diagramming lesson. And the students learned. As a matter of fact, I just heard from three young men, now seniors, who were in my class for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. They were the only students in the district (the second largest in the state) to earn perfect ACT scores, and they credited their middle school English class for the language portion of their scores. The take-away would be that a potentially sedentary subject like English/Language Arts doesn’t have to be boring and can be physically active without impeding learning, apparently.

  2. Michelle Peterson says:

    I really liked how you pointed out that we can be positive role models for eating and nutrition. Sometimes we forget kids watch EVERYTHING we do!

    What can you do to encourage healthy living at your student’s home or in the community?
    I would like to start a nutrition program at my school. I would like to do some parent education about nutrition and exercise as well. I think parents get into a routine where they allow kids to make poor choices and it just becomes habit. Over time, I think it is easy to accept these choices, but educating families about the long-term effects of these choices would be beneficial. Schools and families partner over academics and behavior… I think nutrition and health is equally important.

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?
    Yes, but I could certaily stand to do more! I incorporate brain breaks where as a group, we dance to a video, complete a senosry activity such as ball toss, stretching with therabands or cardio (jumping jacks, running in place). I need to find more ways to make physical activity part of my lessons rather than the breaks in between them.

    Does your school currently have a program to promote exercise and health?
    The only program we have is our Physical Education class that each child attends weekly. The P.E. teacher works a lot on exercise, but there seems to be a lack of focus on the nutritional aspects of health. I can’t help but wonder how much this impacts the students. In some cases, school may be the only place they are exposed to nutrition education. Our middle schools focus on overall health a bit more.

    Have you personally witnessed a child suffer in academics because of obesity?
    Yes. The child was not my student, but as a care team we met about a 3rd grader who was struggling becuase he was being teased about his weight. We worked on self-esteem goals with the child, and the classroom teacher handled the bullying in her class by meeting with the parents of the children who were bullying. It was stopped, but rebuilding the child’s self-esteem is an on-going task.

  3. Amanda says:

    What can you do to encourage healthy living at your student’s home or in the community?

    Number one thing you can do is be a positive role model. It was mentioned above that the students watch our EVERY move and it’s so true. I have had parents come tell me about the smallest things I have done in class like carry around my Mizzou mug!
    At the beginning of last year our school district provided everyone with a Mustangs Tervis and also requested we use the cups instead of fast food restaurant cups or soda cups. Teachers got upset because it was an inconvenience to them, but I really do think it sets a bad example for our students if we are constantly walking around with fast food bags/soda.
    Just like sharing a love for reading helps promote good readers, sharing a love for a healthy lifestyle helps promote better eating choices and a more active lifestyle. I have been working in a first grade classroom that constantly has the students up and moving around with any assignment that they have. It’s inspiring to see how easy it is to alter lessons to include physical activity.
    Having healthy and fun snacks in the classroom might open students eyes up to great alternatives to junk food that they haven’t had before. In turn, they might go home and ask for these things.
    My coworker and I had a healthy competition with increasing our running distance and shortening our time to get ready for a 5k our afterschool program was holding. We would discuss it in our writing and sometimes with our reading and math as well. Then the students all cheered for us/showed up to the 5k event. It was so crowded you almost couldn’t run! I even had several students run with me.

  4. Drew Ibendahl says:

    What can you do to encourage healthy living at your student’s home or in the community?

    As with anything done in the classroom, students must see a model of expected behavior on a consistent basis in order to (hopefully) facilitate a change or create a routine in their everyday behavior. As teachers, we must be that model, making healthy choices in front of our students. From what we bring into the classroom to drink throughout the day (soda vs. water) to what we provide as treats or snacks for our students, we must practice what we preach to our students. In many cases, students may not even be aware of the fruits and vegetables they could be eating, because they have never been exposed to them. When my classes have studied different regions of the U.S. and the world, I have tried to bring in or create different healthy foods from those regions. It is always amazing to see how many students have never been exposed to certain healthy foods, and the foods really aren’t that “exotic.” However, many students, especially young students can only make choices based on what is in their home. Unfortunately for many students, they are unable to make healthy choices at home because they are no healthy foods to choose from. Because of this, information about the healthy foods being eaten in the classroom is sent home with parents, and parents are invited into the classroom to try the foods during parties and celebrations. Many parents may need exposure to healthful foods as their children do. In addition, providing parents with healthy, nutritious, and simple recipes and snack ideas provides resources for parents who may otherwise not have the time or take the time to seek out those healthy alternatives.

    Does your school currently have a program to promote exercise and health?
    I have been a part of schools who have received federal/state grants for fruits and vegetable programs, which have introduced different foods during snack times. This has helped expose some students to fruits and vegetables they otherwise would never have known existed. One trend I have seen as I have taught throughout Illinois and now into Missouri (as I am sure many other teachers and parents are seeing the same trend) is the continuous reduction of time in physical education and recess in order to allow for more time focusing on content areas in the classroom. As we learned in the textbook and understand from being in the classroom, this is often counterproductive. I have been a part of several schools that have introduced running clubs as part of after school programs. Many students take part in these programs, especially if they see teachers and administrators actively and consistently participating. However, because they take place after school, many students are unable to participate because of transportation issues or other conflicts. Until a major shift takes place in education trends and time for physical activity is built back into many schedules, it will be up to educators to make the time in their classrooms during content areas to provide that physical activity.

  5. Katie Williams says:

    I absolutely agree that we should model healthy eating for our students. My 1st graders ask me every day what I’m eating for lunch.

    Does your school have any programs to promote excercise and health? Our school has received a healthy eating grant the last several years. the students receive a healthy snack daily that they can eat at home. The kids really like eating the fruit. At lunch, students who make healthy eating choices are allowed lto ring a bell to let everyone in the cafeteria know theyve made a healthy choice. The special education class grow organic fruits and vegetables to make salads to sell, which was a big hit last year. We also have a no junk food policy. This includes our class parties for Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines Day. Our principal feels so strongly about this that she provides the healthy snacks for our entire school on these special days. It has really made our entire school community a healthier place to be. as far as promoting excerise, Walk to School day is a pretty big day when we gather at the public library with parents and community members and walk to the school. the walk is just over a mile long. Our 3-5 grade girls have the opportunity to participate in a running club called Girls on the Run, which promotes excerise, teamwork and self-esteem.

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?
    I also incorporate brain breaks during transition time or when I think students have been sitting too long. I think making sure to incorporate movement into our curriculum is fun yet challenging. I’m not entirely sure how I will do that this year because I changed the grade level I am teaching. hopefully, this is something I can bring to the table as our team plans lessons together.

  6. Mary Decker says:

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?

    As a former second grade teacher, I had to have many strategies in my toolbox for incorporating physical activity throughout the day. I will list a few of my favorites. Students would often just need to get out excess energy. We would do that by leaping up and down like a frog from a squatting position. I would even do it with them! We would “rrribit” as we jumped. That particular exercise takes a lot of strength and often tired them out. Sometimes, we would do 5-10 minutes of kids’ yoga from videos that I found on YouTube. Often I would use the four corners strategy, where each corner stood for an answer to a question, and students would move to the corner with which they agreed. My favorite activity occurred when we studied the solar system. I had my second graders “be” the different heavenly bodies. They would rotate and revolve in their orbital paths. It was a great way for students to get exercise and review the science vocabulary. If done correctly, there are numerous ways to incorporate physical activity into meaningful lessons. Students can certainly learn content with being active!

  7. Jimmie Jo says:

    Do you have ideas how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?
    I try to incorporate physical activity as much as I can in my first grade classroom. I am sure that I should be doing much, much more. My students enjoy doing “chants” with our high frequency words every day. In our chants we clap the word, air write the word, and then do an action for the word. This might include pretending to do karate, soccer, baseball, basketball, disco dancing, hula hooping, and many more. This helps gets my students active and gives them a chance to get their “wiggles” out. I also do many cooperative learning activities that require them to be up and moving. We play a game called quiz, quiz trade. In this game, my students have to walk around the room and trade cards with one another. They will then have to find the person that matches their card. I also like to play snow fight with responses in reading. In snow fight, students write their response and then wad the paper up like a snowball. They then throw the snowballs at each other until I ask them to stop. They pick up a snowball and read a friend’s response to the story. I have found that the more I can get my students up and moving the less behavioral problems that I seem to have.

    Does your school currently have a program that promotes health and fitness?
    After seeing some of the responses, I think that my school should be doing more to promote health and fitness. I do want to give a little “plug” for our nutrition program. We have health educators come in from an MU Extension office. These educators are in our classrooms 1 day (30 min.) for 8 weeks (I think). They introduce our students to “Choose My Plate.” They teach about different fruits, vegetables, proteins,, and grains. Every other week, they bring different types of foods to try. They also talk to our students about physical activity and food storage. My students come to school talking about how they got their parents to buy the foods that Ms. Angie had them try. It is a wonderful program.

  8. Andrea says:

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?

    The Associate Superintendent in my district stresses that students need to have “brain breaks” throughout the day. One of the professional development classes offered by my school district this year discussed the need for physical activity throughout the day to stimulate the brain and learning. The presenters talked about how the school system in Finland expect students to participate in physical activity at the beginning of the day and at times throughout the day. They found that students brains were more receptive after physical activity. Several school districts in the US have piloted their version of the Finland program and have found an increase in academic success, as well as a decrease in behavioral issues.

    This information validated the style of teaching that myself and fellow 7th grade science teachers have been implementing for years. This style of teaching does have its drawbacks. There are several teachers at the Junior High who have the teaching philosophy that the classroom should be quiet and students should be sitting in their seats. We have taken quite a bit of flack for having students up out of their chairs, in the halls and outside doing activities (labs & demonstrations). Thankfully, we have a very supportive principal who sees the value in what we do with the students. There is plenty of singing and dancing used in our lesson plans to reinforce concepts being taught. We purposely developed labs that have the students up and moving as much as possible. This year two days out of the week are block schedule (1 ½ hour long classes). We are developing our lesson plans to alternate between “up” activities (out of seat, moving around room, etc) and “down” activities (notes, class discussion, etc). There are also several out of your seat cooperative learning activities that we try and incorporate as well (ex. four corners, inside/outside circle, etc ).

    Does your school currently have a program to promote exercise and health?

    Last year during the winter months, the upper elementary (5th & 6th grade) provided an opportunity for students to be active before school and learn about nutrition after school. They had over 40 students participate from around January through March. Currently, at the Junior High over 80 students participate in the fitness club. The High School provides “0” hour where students have numerous opportunities to participate in physical activity prior to the start of the school day (ex. conditioning class, sports practices, marching band practice, etc).

  9. Sinclair says:

    Obesity seems to be a combination of habits and genetics. I saw an article about how emaciated the Vietnam prisoners of war had been when they came home no matter what their body size was before the war. Every one of them then returned to their original body size within a few years after returning home. Left alone, we would have a set intake, but our society pressures us to overeat for many reasons. Our children are the same way, most will gravitate to over eating unless taught to do otherwise which may be unlikely to happen at home. Unfortunately, that leaves the education system to take on that role.

    Therefore, the lack of funding for physical education is a mistake. Children do better with regular exercise that releases tension and helps them relax. Years ago even as a college freshman I was required to take several physical education classes. Now my children (a college junior and a college sophomore) do not have to take any physical education classes. The college offers many such classes but no one takes them because they are not required and would cost extra. If they had not played varsity sports in high school they would have had no exercise except a combination health/PE class were the students hung out in the gym and did nothing but talk in the bleachers.

  10. Brooke says:

    When reading this chapter, I found this section particularly interesting. It is really overwhelming the amount of factors and variables that go into a student’s achievement and success. In my classroom, I do not eat when the children are present, primarily because I do not let the students eat and I want to model my expectations to them. I do drink large quantities of Diet Coke and coffee which probably isn’t setting the best example, however there are worse things I could do. Our school has a healthy eating program in the cafeteria and has eliminated many of the a la carte items that are unreasonably full of fat and empty calories. Our school also does a good job of creating after school sports clubs and activities that are popular with the students. While I think we do a decent job of spreading the word to the students, it is ultimately up to the parents/guardians at home. Unfortunately, I can model healthy eating and talk about exercise, but I feel like if there is no follow through and support at home, the problem will continue to exist.

  11. Autumn says:

    What can you do to encourage healthy living at your student’s home or in the community?

    I have always been an active proponent of leading by example. As a vegan, I aspire to challenge the existing paradigm of what constitutes a healthy diet. I also find that in supporting open forums in the classroom, we -as a school-are able to engender valuable critical thinking conversations and promote interesting opportunities for debate. I am fortunate to teach young children, who have not yet become ossified with respect to their nutritional habits or beliefs. Although none of my students have ever become vegan as a result of our discussions (which is just fine ;), I have observed highly salubrious effects among our group since the last school year, including increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

    Do you have ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your lesson plans?

    Regrettably, I have a bad habit of leaving this to the P.E. department; however, I have often contemplated ways in which I could be more proactive in integrating physical activity into the academic realm. I might try more Reader’s Theater in the classroom, as I appreciate how much this medium promotes both movement and language. Additionally, our school has recently adopted the Singapore Math program, which I understand is highly kinesthetic for young students.

    Does your school currently have a program to promote exercise and health?

    In addition to offering P.E. twice a week and swimming (extracurricular), our grade has an organized, inquiry-based unit on nutrition. Throughout said unit, we collaborate with other professionals in an effort to inculcate a sense of ethics, possibility, and necessity of maintaining a healthy diet.

    Have you personally witnessed a child suffer in academics because of obesity?

    In all honesty, I cannot say that I have in fact witnessed a child suffer in academics due to obesity. Interestingly enough, the majority of my highest achievers have been overweight. This may be attributable to overcompensation or perhaps something altogether unrelated. Having said that, I have scrutinized many studies related to obesity and academics and I completely agree that the situation is becoming increasingly difficult for students suffering from this condition.


  12. khshwb says:

    As the PE teacher at the school it typically falls to me to develop ideas and programs for increasing physical activity. Unfortunately, as important as my principal thinks physical activity is for our students, they only get about 45 hours of physical education/health a year, that is less hours combined in the 3 years I see them than an academic teacher sees them in 1 year. To help students be more physically active in the classroom I have sent out brain break ideas to all of the other teachers, as well as examples for how physical activity can be incorporated into a typical lesson. This year I am also working to develop 2 walking programs, 1 for the staff and 1 for the students and their families. Eventually I would like to be able to have a competition between the staff and the students, but for ease of organization I’m going to start with each program being separate to start. We have not the started the program yet, but my principal has offered to buy the pedometers, at least for the staff to start. We will race in teams to make it to a predetermined location, the team that gets there first will win a prize. Once the staff program is running, I will begin working on the student/family one. In addition to the walking program, we also host family activities. This year we will host 2 hikes and 1 skate night. I think this is an excellent opportunity to get students and their families to enjoy a physical activity together.
    ~Karen Stowe

  13. anonymous50 says:

    I am a huge fan of two things you are doing; first, that you are involving families, and second, that you are providing support to the classroom teachers in finding ways to incorporate physical activity into lessons. What a valuable resource you must be!

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