Parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, government officials, and health experts continue to stress over the rapid rise in childhood obesity, taking turns pointing fingers and searching for solutions. But the latest demographic to join the cause might just leave the way to change. Enthusiastic teenagers are the latest group tackling the obesity epidemic, and their student-led school health movement is spreading rapidly throughout the nation.

A national youth advocacy program called Students Taking Charge is working with teens across the country, helping them figure out whether or not the food served in their schools is healthy or not, and what to to about it if it isn't.  In 2009, they worked with over 60,000 teens, helping them find ways to eat healthier and be more active at school.  

“Some students complain that their school doesn’t offer good food, but they don’t do anything about it,” says Jazemine Noel, a junior at Olney West High School in Philadelphia, who is active with Students Take Charge at her school. “Student leadership is a big responsibility. You have to be willing to step up to the plate to make a program work. But the results are worth it.”

Noel helped start a cooking club that offers weekly fruit and vegetable tastings to students, and then recommends these foods to the cafeteria. Noel reports that more students are eating lunch now that they influence the school menu, and they are eating healthier items such as salads and fruit. She also thinks the program has increased her confidence interacting with school officials.

“Each student had to solicit support from a school stakeholder, such as the principal or cafeteria manager, which can be intimidating,” says Margo Owen, CSN, Olney West High School’s school nurse and cooking club sponsor. “The advocacy suggestions provided in the Students Taking Charge materials empowered the students to be more confident and assertive, and ultimately resulted in these stakeholders’ support to get the program off the ground quickly.”

Students Taking Charge is available nationwide to all high schools.  

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