Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Reader 1

Gabriela Morales

Reader 2

Elise Ferree

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2020 Audrey Connell


Obesity is a biosocial phenomenon in that it is shaped by both biological and social processes. On the biological level, excess body fat increases one’s risk of placing the body in a non-homeostatic state that can weaken the immune response. On the social level, social inequalities are linked to obesity in the United States where racial and ethnic minority communities with low education and high poverty rates bear the largest burden of obesity. In various institutions, multiple actors such as food marketers, public health officials, policy makers, and school administrators dictate the opportunities available to children for them to reach peak health during their formidable growth. School is one environment that can directly help curb childhood obesity because it instills healthy habits at an early age, and it represents a key source of nutritious food and exercise for those who might not have access to otherwise. Children that engage in physical activity and consume a balanced diet can reduce their chance of experiencing obesity in their adult life. Schools are a key site of intervention for two reasons: 1) children spend most of their day at school for at least 180 days of the year 2) policy wise, it is easier to mandate schools what to provide in terms of food service than to expect the nation’s thirty-five million households with school age children to be able to provide for themselves. However, schools face numerous challenges that inhibit their ability to provide resources for students and families to engage in healthy behaviors. Social inequalities exist between schools, in ways that influence the learning experience students receive as well as the quality of nutritious meals and physical education; as such, a reliance on outside partnerships to fill gaps in order to obtain access to better nutrition and exercise programs. These partnerships vary from state and school district, but its success depends on the school’s ability to fundraise and/or apply for federal funding and grants. Based on my field research, I propose three recommendations to lessen the burden placed on teachers, families, and individuals and improve the access to resources that promote a child’s good health and wellbeing. First, institutions should find alternative ways to educate students on healthy eating without adding another strain to the teacher’s role. Second, advocate for administrators and local government to critically assess budgets and increase funding for public education across the board so that they can appropriately support their students. Third, urge our government to create and enforce an effective guideline for school districts to adopt healthy eating behaviors and provide adequate physical activities to positively impact children’s wellbeing.