Obesity is not just a personal problem but a public health epidemic that affects educational achievement, economic productivity and state budgets, the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University believes.
The center released a policy brief in May, which states in the last 20 years, obesity rates -- irrespective of age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, education level or geographic region -- has noticeably increased.
Terry Spradlin, the center's associate director, said Indiana has the 15th highest percentage of obese adults in the nation, and ranks 27th for the number of overweight and obese children.
Spradlin called the trend alarming. He said researchers looked at school-based policies and the fact children spend most of their time in school, receiving sometimes two meals at school -- breakfast and lunch.
"During the time children are in school, they need nutritious meals and physical activity," he said.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture issued school meal requirements in effect for the 2012-13 school year, requiring fruits and vegetables and whole grains for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Kay Nellenweg, Duneland School Corps' Food Service director, said the department is dedicated to serving healthful meals and encouraging children to eat well.
"We firmly believe that a healthy diet and exercise is the key to fighting childhood obesity," she said.
Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux said schools have had strict rules on the amount of fat allowed in the lunch and breakfast, and Merrillville has been following those guidelines for more than 10 years.
Indiana does not mandate physical education in elementary or middle school. Students are required to take physical education as part of a balanced curriculum, but there is no year or grade specified.
"We are a society of convenience, and we're eating foods that are prepared and processed and higher in sodium and higher in fats," Crown Point pediatrician Lisa Gold said.
Gold said people still tend to rely on higher-calorie items. She said much of that is caused by both parents working, and the difficulty in cooking a healthful meal from scratch.
"Our schedules are hectic," she said. "We don't often sit down to a shared family meal. There are so many activities that are sedentary. Kids are not as apt to ride bikes or go outside and play basketball with friends. They have entertainment indoors."