Global Health: Nutrition

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GRC 2023 Global Essay Competition Top 5

By Julianne Tan

“We’ve got the fattest, least fit generation of kids, ever.” This shocking statement by James O. Hill, a nutritionist at the University of Colorado reveals the health crisis faced by children today. Children are increasingly addicted to fast food, leading to obesity and various health problems. This increase in childhood obesity must be immediately addressed by educating the coming generation on healthy eating, integrating health courses into school curriculums, and increasing focus on nutritional balance in school lunch programs.

Childhood obesity has reached an alarming level and is still on the rise (Figure 1). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that obesity in the United States affects 14.7 million children, and in the words of nutritionist Shawn Stevenson, “We are the first generation in recorded human history that is not going to outlive the generation before.” Many countries or regions that once were labeled as “blue zones,” which are regions that have a population of a high life expectancy, have lost that recognition. For instance, Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture that was formerly labeled as a “blue zone,” now has the highest obesity rate in the country (Han, 2023). The cause of this is that Okinawa has become “Americanized”: as American military troops entered Okinawa, American fast food restaurants started to open on Okinawan streets, leading Okinawans, mainly from the younger generations, to adopt an American diet (Schlosser and Wilson, 2006). Now, Okinawa’s obesity rates are increasing while life expectancy is falling, likely attributed to the many diseases caused by obesity such as type two diabetes, cancer, strokes, and heart problems. The correlation between the introduction of fast food restaurants in Okinawa and the deterioration of public health is a potent sign of the dangers of fast food. We must stop the health risks caused by obesity from doing more harm to the current and coming generations.

There have indeed been efforts made in previous years, such as Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States, implementing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which required schools by law to “strengthened nutrition standards for meals, affecting fifty million children daily at 99,000 schools” (Kenney et al. 2020). She also started the Let’s Move Campaign which aimed to “engage every sector impacting the health of children to achieve the national goal and provide schools, families and communities simple tools to help kids be more active, eat better, and get healthy” (Obama White House, 2010). However, are we doing enough? Unfortunately, the persistent increase in obesity rates suggests not; we must do better. Doing better starts with educating children because it is up to the current generation and future generations to solve this preventable issue.

One priority should be educating children about nutrition. For example, in the United States, “students receive less than 8 hours of required nutrition education each school year, far below the 40 to 50 hours that are needed to affect behavior change,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children must be educated on knowledge about what nutrients to consume in what proportions and the importance of limiting their intake of added sugar so that they can make well-informed choices in their daily lives. Classes like home economics should be added to the school curriculum so that students have enough time to learn about the importance of healthy nutrition and to convert their knowledge into behavioral actions to better their diet.

Moreover, school lunches must also be improved so that they meet the nutrition standards necessary for growing children. For example, the government of Japan has implemented policies in elementary schools to provide well-balanced school lunch menus

planned by school nutritionists (Figure 2). These meals “are set according to the stage of a child’s growth” As stated by Tomoko Nakada, a member of the board of the Japan Dietetic Association, “a meal can have consequences for an individual’s entire life span, starting with the time spent in the womb. Nothing gives [Nakada] greater joy than to see children learn about nutrition through school lunches and grow into healthy adults.” Japan provides a good example that countries like the US should follow.

To conclude, rising childhood obesity is an urgent issue that can be linked to dietary changes. Educating children to make better choices about what to eat is an important solution that should be implemented in both classrooms and cafeterias. Concerned students, parents, and community members should raise their voices to demand educational opportunities that will ensure their right to good personal health.


Figure 1. Trends in obesity among children and adolescents aged 2–19 years, by age: United States, 1963–1965 through 2017–2018 (Fryar et al. 2021)


Figure 2. A typical school lunch in Japan

Cabinet Public Affairs Office. “School Lunches: The Key to Children’s Health and Prosperity.” The Government of Japan - JapanGov -. Accessed December 9, 2023.

Chandler, Ashlie. Obama-era school nutrition policy led to better diets for students but faces changes | UW School of Public Health, July 28, 2020. r-diets-students-faces-changes.

Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Healthy Eating Learning Opportunities and Nutrition Education.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 10, 2023.

Fryar, Cheryl D, Margaret D Carroll, and Joseph Afful. “Products - Health e Stats - Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Severe Obesity among Children and Adolescents Aged 2–19 Years: United States, 1963–1965 through 2017–2018.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 8, 2021.

Han, Yoonji. “I Grew up in Okinawa. Here’s What I Think the ‘Blue Zones’ Trend Has Right and Wrong about My Home Island.” Insider, September 30, 2023. 3-9.

Kenney, Erica L, Jessica L Barrett, Sara N Bleich, Zachary J Ward, Angie L Cradock, and Steven L Gortmaker. Impact of the healthy, hunger-free kids act on obesity trends. Accessed December 9, 2023.

LONGEVITY: The Daily Hacks To COMPLETELY HEAL Your Body & Mind! | Shawn Stevenson & Jay Shetty. Jay Shetty Podcast, 2022.

Rampell, Catherine. “The World Is Fat.” The New York Times, September 23, 2010.

Schlosser, Eric, and Charles Wilson. Chew on this. London: Puffin, 2006.

The White House, Office of the First Lady. “First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.” National Archives and Records Administration, February 9, 2010. s-lets-move-americas-move-raise-a-healthier-genera.

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