Monday, June 7, 2010

Healthier Schools to Help Fight Childhood Obesity

Last Thursday’s blog talked about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity. Part of that campaign urges schools to provide healthier meals for students. Many schools are making this a priority.

Deborah Zee, Director of Food Services for the Voorhees Township Board of Education, points out many changes that have made school lunches healthier. “We’ve done away with frying foods and we’ve introduced salads, deli, wraps, and a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she explains.

The Voorhees School System follows the state’s Model Nutrition guidelines, which are designed to combat childhood obesity. These schools have never offered sodas either in the cafeteria or in vending machines, and all foods, including french fries, are baked instead of fried. Grilled cheese sandwiches are made with whole grain bread. Dessert items are typically healthier choices such as whole grain cookies or smart choice popcorn. Pizza, the cafeteria’s most popular item, is now topped with turkey pepperoni.

Zee says that students have been receptive to changes in food offerings because changes are made gradually. This year she introduced brown rice to mixed reviews but she is planning to offer more whole grains next year. She also believes that healthier schools are not just about the food choices.

“We’ve joined in a district-wide move to encourage students to get a lot of physical activity with the emphasis on teaching children to make good choices,” she explains. “We also teach them about gardening to let them see how it goes from seed, to plant, to actual food. We have a Greenhouse Gang in the middle school where kids can plant fruit and vegetables and watch them grow.”

The trick to healthy eating must start when kids are very young, says Zee. While schools can offer healthy choices, it’s parents who must help their children create good eating habits even before they go to school.

“People have to realize that the current eating and behavior patterns that exist are dangerous,” concludes Dr. Gidding, MD, Cardiology Division Head of the Nemours Cardiac Center at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children. “I think it’s easy for families to be overwhelmed by this problem, but they need to remember that it’s one step at a time and setting achievable goals is important.”

Help for Parents
With 70 recommendations, parents may struggle to even know where to begin. The website offers help to children, parents, teachers, doctors, coaches, the non-profit and business communities, and others in understanding the epidemic of childhood obesity and taking steps to combat it. Parents can learn step-by-step strategies and receive regular updates on how the federal government is working with partners to reach the national goal.

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