Fighting Obesity in the Public Schools

Christina Paxson, Elisabeth Donahue, and Ron Haskins


Childhood obesity is a growing national problem. Federal, state, and local policymakers and practitioners recognize the need to take strong action. Public schools are playing a central role in fighting childhood obesity despite both political and financial constraints. But schools should do even more to reduce the availability of junk food, make school meals more nutritious, and increase students’ daily exercise.

Policy Brief

Obesity is one of the nation’s most serious health problems. The news media are swamped by stories documenting that Americans of all ages are fatter than ever and that the long-term health consequences of the added weight are grave. In 1989, only 3 percent of the American public rated obesity as the most important U.S. health problem; by 2004 that figure had jumped to 16 percent. Only cancer (at 24 percent) ranked as a more important health problem than obesity.

Until recently, most Americans regarded weight as a matter of personal choice. But as the number of obese children has tripled over the past three decades, that laissez-faire view of obesity has grown to seem quaint, if not dangerous. The latest volume of the journal The Future of Children makes clear why the problem of obesity has entered the public domain. The serious health risks of obesity, combined with rapidly rising obesityrelated health care costs, warrant not only public attention but also public action and spending.