Can Schools Impact Obesity? Should the Day Be Longer?

I filmed an interesting bloggingheads segment Tuesday with the delightful Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason, in which we discussed, among other topics, the new Pediatrics study showing that a significant percentage of American girls are now undergoing puberty as early as age 7. That last topic got us onto childhood obesity, the probable cause of the trend, since fat cells trigger estrogen production. And the early puberty is a major problem, because it is correlated with an increased incidence of depression, eating disorders, earlier onset of sexual activity/teen pregnancy, and even a higher suicide rate.

Here's the part of the discussion the New York Times is excerpting, in which I muse on whether a longer school day could help shape kids' nutritional choices and health outcomes, by providing them with three meals per day. Below the video, I respond briefly to some counterarguments brought up by BHTV commenters.

When I say "longer school day," I am not at all envisioning kids sitting in rows looking at a blackboard for three or four extra hours. Rather, I'm imagining something like what the best public, private, and charter schools are already doing: a mix of additional instructional time and mealtimes with small group break-out activities like reading clubs, sports, board games, supervised computer time, library browsing time, and art and music lessons.

As a practical matter, to make this happen schools need extra labor: more hours from teachers, as well as specialized, perhaps part-time instructors in the arts and athletics. It can also be done through partnerships between schools and community organizations already providing these services. A few of the winners of the Department of Education i3 innovation grants, announced last week, fit the bill, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Studio in a School. But suffice to say, the federal money being spent on these efforts is a tiny fraction of what's needed to impact all the students who would benefit from a longer, more enriching school day.

Random thought: Next time I do BHTV, I will shine a light at my face and sit further from the camera. Also, I will try not to say "I think" so much.

4 thoughts on “Can Schools Impact Obesity? Should the Day Be Longer?

  1. Susan Brenna

    Bravo Dana. You might get a charge out of visiting an Expanded Learning Time / New York City school, where you’ll see a longer day that’s anything but more blackboard gazing. For example, kids at PS 636 at Bed-Stuy (which partners with my org, TASC, and University Settlement to expand school to 6PM) are doing small group math and English instruction after 3, but also fencing, dancing, cooking healthy foods and getting 3 meals a day. Up for a back-to-school field trip?

  2. Mark

    Ms. Goldstein,

    In the future, please implement on your website a notification that you will post only those comments, like the one offered by Ms. Brenna above, that endorse your position and/or performance.

    Thank you.

  3. Dana

    I have no problem with comments that disagree with my positions. The reason I deleted your comment is because it brought up my appearance in a totally sexist and inappropriate manner. If you stick to the issues, I’m happy to let your comments stay up.

  4. Heather

    I have to disagree with this. I feel like families already spend far too much time apart, and parents tend to push too much responsibility on the schools and the government. Parents need to step up here, spend more time with their kids, and be more involved on a daily basis. Extending the school day will only take more time away from families and will have negative results. Also, most public schools are struggling to stay open these days. In our community we’ve had two schools close this year due to lack of funding. Finances are a major thing to consider. This just seems like a bandaid, not really going deep anough to address and change the major issues. The changes need to be with the whole family, which means the family needs to be involved and kept together.


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