Dec 4, 2003 – Princeton, N.J.

Two national polls released today show remarkable agreement between parents and teachers on what schools should do to help stop the epidemic of childhood obesity. More than 90 percent of parents and teachers surveyed favor converting the contents of vending machines in schools to healthy foods and beverages. And more than 80 percent of parents and teachers believe students should be required to take physical education every day at every grade level.

The two national opinion surveys were conducted jointly by Lake Snell Perry & Associates and Market Strategies, Inc. on behalf of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with the National Education Association1.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and C.E.O. of RWJF, sees tremendous opportunity in the poll results. “We’re encouraged that parents and teachers see eye to eye on the opportunities schools have to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.” She noted that 90 percent of teachers and 86 percent of parents surveyed connect physical activity with improved academic performance and behavior. “But,” said Lavizzo-Mourey, “protecting our children’s health is the most important reason to make changes in schools.”

Today, there are nearly twice as many overweight children (ages 6-11) and almost three times as many overweight adolescents (ages 12-19) as there were in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“There are significant health risks for the nine million U.S. children who are seriously overweight, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and the propensity to become overweight or obese as adults,” said Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S. “Schools can become part of the solution by offering healthier choices and opportunities for kids to be more physically active.”

Significant findings from the polls include:

Vending Machines

  • 92 percent of teachers and 91 percent of parents favor converting the selections in vending machines to healthy foods and beverages. (According to a CDC study, more than 76 percent of all schools offer soft drinks in vending machines.)
  • 86 percent of teachers and 83 percent of parents oppose allowing vending machines with soft drinks, unhealthy snacks and candy in elementary schools.

Physical Education

  • 81 percent of teachers and 85 percent of parents favor requiring students to take physical education every day at every grade level.
  • 94 percent of teachers and 89 percent of parents favor developing new “lifestyle” approaches to physical education, focusing on activities children can continue to participate in after they’ve left school.
  • 87 percent of teachers and 88 percent of parents believe school boards should not eliminate physical education for budgetary reasons.
  • 87 percent of teachers and 77 percent of parents believe schools should not eliminate physical education classes to focus on meeting stricter academic standards.

RWJF is making available on its Web site “Healthy Schools for Healthy Kids,” a report detailing the results of two years of interviews, school site visits and analysis. “The findings make it clear that schools can play a stronger role in helping to stem the tide of childhood obesity,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. View the report.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to quality health care at reasonable cost; to improve the quality of care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse – tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

1 The national survey of 600 parents with at least one child in a public school has an error rate of +/- 4 percent. The national survey of 500 teachers currently teaching in a public school has an error rate of +/- 4.4 percent.

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