It is extremely difficult for American middle school students to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits given the influences in our society today. The majority of adults in our culture live a fast-paced life—often spending more than eight hours a day working, taking quick breaks to eat meals filled with far-from-ideal foods, and exercising only when they somehow find an extra hour in the day. People hurry to get to work just to sit in front of a computer for hours. They impatiently sit in traffic during rush hour just to get home and curl up in front of the television. They buy foods that are already prepared and often high in sodium, fat, and sugar just because they are available, save time, and satisfy cravings. With fast food restaurants on every corner, supermarket shelves stocked full of soda, chips, and cookies, and gyms and other exercise-promoting places few and far between, Americans are constantly tempted to make unhealthy choices.

Children are not exempt from these temptations. They start to shape their health habits at a very young age. Once they reach middle school, they have definitely developed routines. Despite school health and nutrition education programs, far too many teens have unhealthy eating and exercise habits. They are very impressionable and are heavily influenced by habits of family members and peers. It is socially acceptable to eat large meals that do not contain all of the recommended nutrients.

In addition, teens are not getting enough exercise. Because of funding limitations and pressures to focus so much on improving test scores, schools generally do not stress the importance of physical education enough. Physical education classes are usually only offered one to two times a week at the most. After-school activities commonly include playing video games and chatting on the computer instead of playing and running around outside with friends. Bad eating and exercise habits can cause teens to become overweight or even obese, which can lead to early onset of health-related diseases.

At the same time, social and emotional well-being are not emphasized adequately. Teens are bombarded by images and messages in the media that suggest that only the thin and beautiful are worthy of being accepted in society. This can cause teens to have a poor self-image and turn to other unhealthy habits, including exercise and eating disorders. The state of teen health is an ongoing battle.

Although education systems cannot fight this health battle alone, teens spend many hours at school and can pick up healthy habits while they are there. Here are just a few ideas to promote health at the middle school level.


1.     Offer healthy breakfast options before school, such as fruit and protein smoothies or eggs with whole grain toast.

2.     Include a snack break mid-morning with fruit, veggies, and trail mix.

3.     Give balanced meals options for lunch, like sandwich, soup, and salad bar.

4.     Have special treats only for special occasions so kids have something to look forward to.


1.     Provide physical education class daily.

2.     Emphasize all main components of exercise – cardiovascular, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.

3.     Incorporate structured recess activities, like rock climbing or jump roping.

4.     Integrate physical activities, like a nature hike or scavenger hunt, into class lessons.

Social & Emotional Wellness

1.     Provide a school counselor to monitor students’ well-being.

2.     Plan student retreats at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to allow students to make connections and bond.

3.     Form an advisory program to create a small community feel within a large environment.

4.     Have revitalization time, such as yoga or naptime.

It is very important for children to embrace healthy eating and exercise habits despite the current American culture. Because children form a true sense of identity and begin making choices of their own during the teenage years, middle school is a fabulous age to focus on health development. By promoting suitable nutrition, fitness, and wellness strategies, schools can help students become healthy citizens.