Fat schools

Two years ago, Arkansas public schools began sending out letters letting parents know whether their children were overweight. Suddenly these students began seeing their pediatrician more and attending fitness classes. Pennsylvania, Florida and California now have programs that do much the same.

The concern about the epidemic of childhood obesity -- in Arkansas 38 percent of schoolchildren are overweight -- is shared by the federal government, which now requires local school districts across the nation to develop "wellness policies" for students.

The Cape Girardeau School District has embarked on just such a program. Its new wellness policy aims to curtail students' poor nutritional choices at school and promote fitness.

Elementary schools will no longer serve soft drinks at parties or other school events, and lollipop rewards are out, too. The high school students' lunch-time soft drinks are likely to be eliminated unless they are diet sodas. These moves are in line with outright bans on soft-drink vending machines in California and in Chicago.

The Jackson School District also is developing a wellness plan. A 2004 federal law requires all school districts to have wellness policies in place by the beginning of the 2006-20007 school year this fall.

Children and adolescents in the U.S. spend an average of 45 hours a week in sedentary activities such as playing video games, watching TV and movies and using a computer. Students at most area schools still can buy burgers and fries and pizza at their cafeterias.

The childhood obesity epidemic must be confronted on a variety of fronts. Teaching students to make good nutritional choices at school is a start.