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Fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend about the Gillette, Wyoming, where the community approach to fighting childhood obesity has taken on enormous momentum.

“Spurred by a local doctor and an enthusiastic school board, Gillette has banned soda and second helpings on hot meals,” the Journal writes. “This year, it included students' body-mass index -- a number that measures weight adjusted for height – on report cards, and started recommending students…for after-school fitness programs. It even offers teachers the chance to earn bonuses based on their fitness.”

Gillette hardly is operating in a vacuum. The Journal reports that “Arkansas, Pennsylvania and a few other states require that students' body-mass index be recorded and sent home to parents periodically. Starting this school year, a new federal rule requires that all school districts receiving meal subsidies create a ‘wellness policy’ outlining goals for nutrition and fitness.”

A task force created by the school district “decided students would no longer receive second-helpings of lunch entrées (they could have unlimited helpings of fresh fruits, vegetables and salad). It told lunch servers to give smaller portions to younger students. Concession-stand vendors received a list of recommended alternatives, such as fresh fruit and string cheese. School principals were pushed to dump bake sales in favor of car washes, talent shows and walkathons.

“The task force also deployed financial incentives. Elementary schools that added physical activity received extra funding for instructors and after-school health programs. Based on the assumption that children emulate adults around them, the district in February began awarding bonuses to faculty who opted to receive a fitness assessment, which measured metrics such as blood pressure and bicep strength. The better the fitness score, the higher the bonus -- as much as $160 if they take the test twice a year and get high marks.”

Inevitably, perhaps, there is a backlash taking place “among parents, children and even some teachers and school officials. The efforts often draw derision for being too extreme and demonizing children. Arkansas, the first state to pass legislation requiring schools measure students' body-mass index, backtracked last month and now allows parents to refuse the assessment.” And in part, the backlash is occurring because while the Gillette program focuses on kids’ health, it ignored the judgmental side of the equation that hits at their self-esteem.
KC's View:
The story is worth reading in full. We would pose the following thoughts:

• Is the Gillette school district paying as much attention to teaching literature, writing skills, mathematics, history and science as it is to what they eat?

• Isn’t it interesting that Gillette is able to pay its teachers more money for being in shape but, if it is like most other school districts, it probably can’t pay good teachers bonuses for being good teachers.

• Is the concern about “self-esteem” a bow to political correctness? Should concerns about self-esteem be subservient to concerns about future bouts of diabetes, heart disease and other medical maladies?

• Finally, we’ll be curious to see, in about 10 years or so, what the rate of eating disorders is in Gillette and other places that are so focused on kids’ eating habits. Because the downside of a raised consciousness is an obsession that is not at all healthy.

Just thoughts.