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Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity

Each day, the nation's nearly 133,000 schools provide an opportunity for 55 million students to learn about health and develop the skills that promote healthy behaviors.1 Schools can create environments that are supportive of students' efforts to eat healthily and be active by implementing policies and practices that support healthy eating and regular physical activity. In addition, schools provide opportunities for students to learn about healthy lifestyle choices and to practice healthy behaviors.

Photo: A female studentObesity Among Children and Adolescents

Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States. 2The percentage of adolescents and children who are obese tripled from 1980 to 2008.3 In 2008 alone, more than one third of U.S. children and adolescents were overweight or obese.2 Obese children are more likely to become obese adults. Statistics show that children and adolescents who are obese have a 70% to 80% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.4

Reducing Obesity and Chronic Diseases During Childhood

A number of risk factors contribute to obesity, including lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, and environmental factors 5. Given the number of hours children spend at school, the school environment can have a significant influence on children's diets.6 Engaging students in healthy eating and regular physical activity can help lower their risk for obesity and related chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke; the three leading causes of death among adults aged 18 years or older. 7, 8 The public health focus on childhood obesity reflects concern for children's health, not their physical appearance.5, 7 Reversing the obesity epidemic requires a long-term, well-coordinated approach to reach young people where they live, learn, and play. Schools are key partners in this effort.

People standing on scales

More than 1/3 of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

CDC's Updated School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Recommendations and Reports, "School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity—United States, 2011," provides nine guidelines that serve as the foundation for developing, implementing, and evaluating school-based healthy eating and physical activity policies and practices for students in grades K-12. Developed in collaboration with nutrition and physical activity experts across the nation, the Guidelines identify the most effective policies and practices schools can implement to help youth adopt and maintain healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle. These guidelines support the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 11 the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 12,as well as the Healthy People 2020 [PDF - 1.26MB] national objectives related to healthy eating and physical activity among students.6 Each of the nine guidelines is accompanied by a set of implementation strategies developed to help schools work toward achieving each guideline. Although the ultimate goal is to implement all nine guidelines, not every strategy will be appropriate for every school, and some schools, due to resource limitations, might need to implement the guidelines incrementally.

The health of students is also linked to their academic success. Both physical activity and healthy eating may help improve academic achievement.13-16 School Health Programs can make a powerful contribution toward a healthy future for students in the United States. By adopting these nine guidelines, schools can help ensure that all students have the opportunity to attain their maximum educational potential and pursue a lifetime of good health.

Learn more about the Guidelines.

Resources for Implementing the School Health Guidelines

In addition to an Executive Summary of the MMWR, CDC developed a PowerPoint® presentation package to introduce the School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. These materials are designed for individuals at education and health agencies as well as other stakeholders who are invested in student wellness.

Photo: A girl being served a school lunchowerPoint® Presentation: School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

  • The PowerPoint® Presentation can be used to disseminate the Guidelines at meetings and conferences, through continuing education, or train–the-trainer events. The presentation has talking points for every slide so that any individual can narrate the presentation.

Facilitator's Guide

  • The Facilitator's Guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to present the PowerPoint® presentation (with facilitator narrative and notes) as well as suggested activities to complement the presentation and enrich professional development. The Facilitator's Guide also offers an agenda, goals, objectives, procedures, activities, handouts, a list of materials and equipment, and recommended preparation steps for executing the presentation and suggested activities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • The FAQs are a compilation of answers to questions addressing the goals of the presentation, the purpose of the presentation, and much more.

CDC is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of children and adolescents to enable them to become healthy and productive adults. To learn more about what CDC is doing to address childhood obesity, visit: Adolescent and School Health: Nutrition, Physical Activity, & Obesity and Overweight and Obesity.

More Information


  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD) Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, 2009 - 2010: 1a.
  2. Ogden CL, C.M., Curtin LR, Lamb MM, Flegal KM., Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007 - 2008. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2010. 303(3): p. 242 - 249.
  3. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Features on Death and Dying. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011
  4. Guo, S.S. and W.C. Chumlea, Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood. Am J Clin Nutr, 1999. 70(1): p. 145S-8S.
  5. Institute of Medicine, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2004, Institute of Medicine: Washington, D.C.
  6. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Healthy People 2020 Report No. B0132. , 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Rockville, MD.
  7. Daniels, S.R., et al., Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation, 2005. 111(15): p. 1999-2012.
  8. Office of the Surgeon General, The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation, Department of Health and Human Services, Editor 2010: Rockville MD:US.
  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Washington, DC.
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2008, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Washington, DC.
  11. CDC, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance., 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; . Atlanta, GA.
  12. Hoyland A, D.L., Lawton CL., Nutrician Research Reviews, in A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents 2009, Nutrition Research Reviews.
  13. Rampersaud GC, P.M., Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD., Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. . 2005. 760,105(5).
  14. Taras, H., Nutrition and student performance at school. 2005. 75(6).
  • Page last reviewed: October 17, 2011
  • Page last updated: October 17, 2011
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs