Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dietary Fats: Friend or Foe?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dietary Fats: Friend or Foe?

Article excerpt

Obesity among teens is still a major problem (the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease in June [Pollack 2013]), and many people expect teachers to be part of the solution.

K-12 schools should play the biggest community role in countering obesity, said 90% of more than 2,000 U.S. adults in a recent survey for Kaiser Permanente (Field Research Corp. 2013). The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) imposed stricter new limits in June on fats, calories, sugar, and sodium in nearly all foods sold in the nation's 100,000 schools. The new rules--authorized by Congress in 2010--even allow states to regulate student bake sales.

Limiting students' choices to healthy foods is important, but teens also need to learn to make healthy choices on their own. High school teens usually learn about issues related to obesity, such as nutrition and exercise, in health and PE classes, which nearly all surveyed educators and parents (99%) agreed that high school students should be required to take (KidsHealth.org 2013). But 22% of educators said their schools do not offer health education.

One piece of the obesity puzzle that high school teachers can address is dietary fats, though simply promoting a low-fat or nonfat diet is not appropriate.

"Many low-fat and nonfat foods are not necessarily healthier and can be higher in calories," says Mary Lou Gavin, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Delaware chapter and medical editor for KidsHealth. org. "Fats are an important part of the diet. Our bodies use fat for energy, to build brain and nerve tissue as well as hormones, and to aid in the absorption of some vitamins."

Too many calories from fat, though, can contribute to weight gain and other health problems, Gavin says.

Teens should get 25% to 35% of their daily calories from fat, according to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans (see "On the web"). Everyone should choose healthy unsaturated fats, limit saturated fats, and avoid trans fats (also listed on food labels as "partially hydrogenated" oils).

Classroom activity

To build awareness about dietary fats, have your students read through the resources on fats from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and KidsHealth.org (see "On the web"), then ask each of them to bring to class 5-10 Nutrition Facts labels from a variety of foods and beverages they consume. …

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