Missouri School Fights Alarming Obesity Problem

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS News) INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - A health study published Thursday in the medical journal Lancet says obesity is killing three times as many people around the world as malnutrition is. Now a Missouri high school is fighting the problem head on.

Spend a minute in the nurse's office at Truman High School in Independence, Missouri, and you'll immediately notice something troubling.

"We see Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure," said school nurse Lori Halsey. "People with joint pains, arthritis, stress, anxiety, depression from being above a healthy weight."

Halsey said that 40 percent of students at Truman High were overweight or obese. Two years ago, she was part of a district-wide program to test student's body fat.

"It's very concerning to see that they're dealing with adult illnesses at such a young age," she said, "and you just worry where they're going to be in the future."

Superintendent Jim Hinson said: "We have a major issue with kids because of what they're eating, and what they're not eating, the lack of exercise. This is a crisis in our country."

It's a crisis that Hinson saw undermining his schools through higher rates of absenteeism, illness and lower test scores. He attacked the problem with mandatory nutrition classes in grades K through 12.

At the gym, they now record student fitness levels. And in the cafeteria, chicken that was fried is now baked. Salads are always on the menu.

Seventeen-year-old senior Taffee Fuiava suffers from the same weight-induced asthma that killed her father.

"I think surely but slowly the message will hit home and kids will start eating healthier," she said. "It's a team thing, you can't do it by yourself. It's just so easy to fall back."

In the last year, she's made a start -- losing nine pounds so far.

"If kids can't be healthy, they can't be successful," said Halsey. "So if we give them the tools they need and the education, they can take it home. "

Added Hinson: "For the first time in history, the life expectancy of our kids is less than ours. That has to change."

At the districts grade schools test scores are up and asthma cases are down. And at Truman High, obesity rates have dropped 10 percent over the last two years. The changes they made here are showing results.

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