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The role of schools in fighting obesity, poor health

Obesity expert sources at Indiana University Bloomington

NOTE: This tip is one of several stories being released during IU Life Sciences Week (Jan. 22-28). It complements a release sent earlier today (Jan. 25) on childhood obesity.

Lloyd Kolbe is a nationally known expert in the field of adolescent health and the role schools play in affecting it. He served as the founding director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 18 years prior to coming to IUB in 2003. He speaks internationally on the impact schools can have on student obesity. HPER has other experts as well, who are conducting obesity-related research.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- With the exception of parents and families, schools could do more than any other social institution to prevent and reduce obesity, according to Lloyd Kolbe, a professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The nation's K-12 education infrastructure, Kolbe said, could systematically improve the dietary and physical activity patterns of 53,000,000 students and 5,000,000 school employees every school day. He has identified 23 specific policies that schools could consider to reduce obesity among young people and the adults they will become.

For example, administrative or legislative policies could help schools provide physical education, including at least 30 minutes of moderate/vigorous activity each day; recess, which allows for physical activity; intramural as well as interscholastic activity outside school hours; physical activity for those with disabilities; and school-sponsored physical activity that both is enjoyable and promotes lifelong physical activity. He suggested that those concerned about the obesity epidemic could work closely with school administrators and school employees to help them select, support and sustain the most effective policies and to monitor nationwide implementation and outcomes of various policies over time.

HPER Dean David Gallahue said faculty from throughout his school are involved in important research to understand the "recent surge in obesity" among all age groups. These faculty in the departments of applied health science, kinesiology and recreation and park administration are devising intervention strategies for decreasing the incidence of obesity among children, adolescents and adults.

"Whether from the standpoint of increasing physical activity, improving nutritional habits, becoming more skillful movers or adopting personal leisure behaviors, the central theme of much of the research in HPER is focused on our core message of 'Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles,'" Gallahue said.

As part of Kolbe's research, he works with the nation's 120,000 schools to find ways to improve student and school employee health. Researchers are finding important links, he said, between student health and academic achievement. Data about school breakfast programs, for example, show that they can -- in addition to improving health -- improve standardized test scores and attendance rates and reduce behavioral disruptions.

In addition to serving as the vice chairman of the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine Committee on Adolescent Health and Development, Kolbe serves on the IOM's Committee on Food Marketing and the Diets of Youth, which will meet on Thursday (Jan. 27) in Washington, D.C., with leaders of the food, marketing and media industries. A link to the audio webcast of the meeting will be available on Thursday at Kolbe will be able to discuss the committee's deliberations only after the committee issues its final report next year. He serves on numerous other international, national and state committees to improve child and adolescent health, and he frequently is asked to speak and consult about policy and systems research and development.

Kolbe can be reached at 812-856-6781 and To learn more about Kolbe, please visit To reach other obesity experts in HPER, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and