Schools Use Psychology To Defeat Childhood Obesity

An epidemic of obesity in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate, especially in children, and there has been little done to stop it, until now. On Tuesday, October 14, 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture announced a groundbreaking $2 million initiative that will fund studies to improve kids’ and teens’ eating habits.

Past Attempts at Stopping Obesity

There have been halfhearted attempts to rid lunch cafeterias of unhealthy products before, but all eventually failed. In the past, many schools removed caffeinated drinks from the lunchroom, but students simply brought their own drinks for lunch. To combat students’ poor food choices, several meal programs included a piece of fruit with each meal, however, most often than not, apples and oranges found themselves a new home in the trashcan.

Take Two

The Department of Agriculture insists with this new proposed study, things will be different. Instead of force-feeding kids healthy food, the driving purpose behind this initiative is to ensure children and teens are making the healthy choice on their own. Some techniques include hiding the chocolate milk behind the plain milk, putting fruit into eye appealing baskets, instead of keeping them in stainless steel bins. Cornell researchers have already successfully tested out similar techniques such as: moving salad bars next to the registers and starting quick, do-it-yourself sandwich lines, similar to Subway.


Established food researcher and Cornell scientist Brian Wansink has conducted innovative food studies in the past, including the depiction of food in Da Vinci’s Last Supper. In an attempt to stop childhood obesity, Wansink changed the names of certain vegetables to seem more appealing to children and teens. Carrots were transformed into “X-ray carrots”, and green beans made the transition to “lean, mean green beans.” As a result of the name changes, there was a distinct rise in the consumption of healthier foods.

Wansink indicates one of the plaguing flaws in school meal programs, “We were making it very convenient for them to quickly go through the line and get a bunch of less nutritious items.”

Long Way To Go To Stop Childhood Obesity

In the past, schools found themselves alone when they tried to restructure the meal programs to ensure students were making healthier decisions. After the announcement of a $2 million initiative by the Department of Agriculture, schools throughout America now have a helping hand in the fight against childhood obesity. Hopefully with the help of behavior scientists, the issue of childhood obesity will become a problem of the past.


Obesity in School Children

With the advent of snack foods, fast foods, and empty calories, school children continue to get larger and less active. Our society provides healthy meals and choices but most kids prefer junk food to nutritious choices. This empty calorie lifestyle along with a sedentary activity level lends to children who are plagued with weight problems. Many parents are also overweight and unhealthy.

Weight Gain is up in Young People

From kindergarten to high school, it is possible to spot overweight students. The obesity brings with it many well-concealed neurosis as well as difficulties when interacting with classmates. Many times a roly-poly body covers a poor self-esteem. This oversized body not only affects how the student feels about his or herself but also how others feel about him or her.

Because people are predisposed to stereotypes it often considered that the overweight child is passive and good natured. This is not always true. The obese child can be passive because of reasons of sheer bulk. They are not always good natured. This is often due to the fact that they can be ridiculed and tormented in school.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to impress upon all students that there is a relationship between food intake and the amount of exercise they get. Each school should offer a well-planned health and exercise program for students. The earlier these programs start the better for the students. Many schools offer nutrition classes and afterschool activities to foster a wider range of physical activity.

Weight Gain Is a Medical Issue

Teachers of obese students must walk a fine line when trying to help with the weight issue. If the student is old enough to know what it means to assume responsibility for his or her own actions then talking about weight control will not be so difficult but younger students might not be aware of how their health is being affected. It is important to note that dealing with weight is a medical issue and losing weight, dieting, and increasing exercise should usually be done under the care of a physician. Teachers have a great deal of control and can be an effective agent of change for the overweight student.

Before talking to a student whose weight is causing problems, consult the student’s health record to learn if the child might have a history of obesity. Many times children have diseases or are on medicine that may increase weight.

Involve School Counselors

Involve the school counselors. Discussing a student’s weight issues should NEVER be done in class or while other students are listening. Confidentiality is crucial when dealing with sensitive issues. Speak with the PE staff about how the student is performing during gym. You might suggest taking the whole class for a nature walk, or to play a game during recess.

Showing that as a teacher, you value movement can often spark a non-motivated student to want to perform. When talking to the student’s parents ask if they know of some ways to encourage their child to get more active. What does he or she like to do at home? Does the child have favorite snacks? Favorite healthy foods?

A class activity might be a taste challenge where healthy snacks are brought in and each student gets to try a bite and rate the snacks appeal. This will not only expose the student to new varieties of snacks but also give the teacher an ideal of what the student likes.

Most importantly make sure as a teacher and a leader that you do not allow abuse, taunts, and /or cruelty to be part of the student’s day. It is difficult enough to handle peer pressure and with teenage suicides on the rise it is one way to make sure that each student feels safe and secure during his or her school day.