Children need diet and exercise

Many of us can recall the days of old when our school cafeterias were reliable sources of food that satisfied our palates but wasn’t necessarily all that nutritious.

We also have certain memories — the kids whose weight made it impossible to perform a chin-up or climb a rope in gym. Some of us were those kids.

Today, we know that diet and exercise are two keys of good health. Schools are seeing to the former, but often lag with the latter.

American education’s leading priority, of course, is improving student achievement. The focus on academics, however, meant less attention to physical education.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is trying to change that. Enacted in 2010, the federal law established guidelines for the kind of food schools can provide to their students, including snacks from vending machines and even those in-school fundraisers.

Snack foods are limited to 200 calories, 230 mg of sodium. They must contain less than 35 percent sugar. Less than 35 percent of their calories can come from fat. Less than 10 percent calories can from saturated fat, and they cannot contain trans fat.

Either fruit, vegetables, dairy or protein groups must be their first ingredient, and they must be whole-grain rich.

The requirements might be appalling to any self-respecting junk-food addict, but they promote healthy eating. Missing is the same attention to exercise. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires districts to update their wellness plans that include exercise, but the stipulation is far less explicit than the nutrition requirements.

In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled: More than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Much has been said about the need to strengthen our children’s brains. The same is true for proper diet and exercise.

You can’t have one without the other. There is no limit on the number of nutritious snacks students can buy. Eating them in excess isn’t the way to better health.

School officials who complement nutrition with exercise are setting the proper standard.

— TIMES HERALD (PORT HURON)