Does your school make the grade?
New U.S. policies target schools to reduce childhood obesity.
Nearly 50 million kids are back in school, ready for reading, writing, and arithmetic. Along with new teachers and lesson plans, they will also find new policies governing what they can eat and drink while at school.
Much has changed since the National School Lunch program was launched 60 years ago. Most notably, 30% of kids are now overweight, and children are increasingly developing “adult” diseases, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and diabetes. According to the CDC, up to 40% of today’s children will develop Type 2 diabetes during their lives if something doesn’t change.
This school year, U.S. policy requires all school districts participating in federal meal programs to implement "wellness policies" -- detailed plans incorporating nutrition education, physical activity, and healthier food choices on campus. The policies also set nutrition guidelines for all foods sold at school, including those available in vending machines.
"Kids spend a great deal of time at school, which is why [schools have] been targeted with the huge task of educating kids about the importance of good nutrition and making healthy food choices; encouraging active lifestyles; and serving nutritious food and drinks at mealtime, in vending machines and during parties, celebrations, and fund-raising," says Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, MS, RD, executive director for the nonprofit Action for Healthier Kids organization.
Experts say schools are a logical place to start stemming the tide of obesity. Not only are school-aged children in the process of establishing lifetime eating habits, research has actually linked proper nutrition to better academic performance.
"We need to help kids make the right decisions, and we do that by serving healthy food and educating them in the classroom about the importance of diet and nutrition," says Connie Mueller, RD, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association.
Promote Proper Nutrition.
1. Educate Students. Educate students on the importance of good nutrition by displaying the posters from our "Eat Smart" series. Positive eating patterns fostered during the teen years are very likely to last a lifetime.
2. Model Good Behavior. Have teachers eat with their students exhibiting a healthy attitude toward their food while modeling healthy eating habits. Proper nutrition among growing teens is crucial for building strong bodies, healthy minds and preventing obesity.
3. Encourage Exercise. Encourage teenagers to choose an activity they enjoy and to exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes each day.
4. Encourage Breakfast. When students skip breakfast, thier metabolic rate slows down and blood sugar drops. As a result, students become hungry and have less energy.
School Breakfast Program and School Performance.
Children who participate in the School Breakfast Program show significant improvement in academic performance and tardiness rates, and a trend toward improvement in absenteeism. Results were the following:
(1) participants and non-participants did not differ with respect to sex, ethnicity, or number of children per family;
(2) participants improved their CBTS score;
(3) absenteeism of both participants and non-participants increased, but there was less increase for participants; and
(4) tardiness decreased for participants and increased for non-participants.
See USDA Child Nutrition/School Wellness Policies
*WebMD Weight Loss Clinic