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Childhood Obesity

Getting Students Involved in Wellness

Today’s Cafeteria Stories contribution comes from Dr. Robert Lewis of the El Monte School District in Southern California.  Dr. Lewis describes the success that his urban school district has had with involving students in wellness.  His district currently has 14 schools with Silver HealthierUS School Challenge awards.

Guest post by Dr. Robert S. Lewis, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte City School District (Calif.)

At El Monte City School District, our students are actively involved in setting wellness goals, mentoring others, and participating in taste tests.  For the past twenty years or so, the United States has seen a steady rise in childhood obesity and juvenile type 2 diabetes.  These are the epidemics of our time.  We can solve them.  But it will take all of us working together.  What does that mean or look like?  That means community members will need to become more involved in student wellness efforts at the school level as well as the municipal level.

USDA Partners with DOD to Fight Childhood Obesity

Tackling the child obesity epidemic that holds so many health risks for our nation’s youngest members is an important responsibility.  Fortunately, USDA is not alone in this critical charge.

Sound nutrition plays an essential role in all aspects of a child’s life, including their ability to learn, grow and thrive in the classroom.  And since many children today consume half of their daily calories while at school, we want to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for them and their families.  Happily, we have partners that feel the same way.

Poll Finds Most Parents Support Higher School Nutrition Standards

Over the past four years, USDA has worked closely with schools, parents, community leaders, and nutrition experts to ensure that when children go off to school, they are greeted by a healthier school environment.  According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, leading to an increase in obesity-related health outcomes in children, including cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, and bone and joint problems.  Improving school nutrition is vital to reducing childhood obesity, because many children consume half of their daily calories during the school day. Making the healthy choice the easy choice sets our nation’s children up for a lifetime of healthy choices, and supports a healthier next generation.  Recently, we’ve seen evidence that student acceptance of healthier meals is increasing across all grade levels.  Today, we are pleased to see the results of the latest poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Heart Association, showing that most parents support the healthier meal and snack standards implemented through the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.

Read more about the results of that study in this guest blog, from the American Heart Association.

A majority of parents favor strong national nutrition standards for food and drink sold at schools, according to a poll released Monday by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association.

In addition, the poll found that parents would also like to see salt limited in school foods and more fruits and vegetables served.

School Nutrition Standards Underpin Healthy Eating Habits

In this week’s guest post, Dr. Stephen Cook describes the childhood overweight and obesity epidemic based on first-hand experience with patients in his clinical practice.  He also discusses the important role that school nutrition plays in both short- and long-term health outcomes among our nation’s children.

Dr. Stephen Cook, M.D., Ph.D., American Heart Association Volunteer

It’s a hard truth to swallow, but childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions – and diet has a lot to do with it. In the city of Rochester, where I currently live and work, almost half of all children are overweight or obese. In fact, one of the patients in my practice was already considered obese at the tender age of three. By the time he turned four, his BMI was over the 98th percentile for his age.

Education Support Professionals - Partners in School Nutrition

The USDA school meals programs serve well over 30 million students per day, nationwide.  We rely on our partners in the education realm to help us ensure that these programs—not only programs of great magnitude, but also of great public health importance—are implemented appropriately so that children are healthy and ready to learn.  This week’s guest blog from the National Education Association is a testament to their members’ commitment to student health, and the important role that school nutrition plays.

By Roxanne Dove, Director, National Education Association, Education Support Professionals Quality

The nearly half-million Education Support Professionals (ESPs) who are members of the National Education Association play vital roles in helping to create great public schools for our students. ESPs work as bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, food service staff, and in many other jobs as part of a unified education workforce that helps ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished, and well-educated.

As readers of this blog may know, our country’s youth are facing twin crises of obesity and food insecurity -- limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese (White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity: Report to the President, 2010) while 16 million face food insecurity (USDA Economic Research Service, 2013).  In a sad irony, food insecurity leads to both hunger and obesity. Because they lack access to or can’t afford healthier food, food insecure families may be forced to choose inexpensive, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

Changing the Way 650,000 Students Eat in Los Angeles

Cross posted from the Let's Move blog:

The city of Los Angeles is known all around the world for Hollywood, Beverly Hills, celebrities as well as glitz and glamour.  There are more than 125,000 millionaires and more than 20 billionaires in this city I now call home.

But the reality is there is still a big discrepancy in quality of life between the elite and the majority of students I serve as food services director at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country.

Of the 650,000 students we serve daily, 80 percent qualifies for free and reduced meals, which means the students and their families live in circumstances of poverty.  In addition, 14,000 of our students are certified homeless with no fixed address.

Building a Healthier Future Through Partnership

On March 12-14 the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) will host their 2014 Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, DC. Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS), will be in attendance on behalf of USDA.

“I’m thrilled to see so many partners coming together in support of a healthier next generation,” said Dr. Thornton.  “Although we have collectively made strides toward reducing the impact of childhood obesity, there is still much work to be done.”

School Breakfast Week, International School Meals Day Kick off National Nutrition Month

To kickoff National Nutrition Month, USDA is again celebrating National School Breakfast Week (March 3 – 7) to support the health and well-being of our nation’s children.  National Nutrition Month is the perfect time to highlight the essential role nutrition plays in sustaining healthier lives.  A well-balanced breakfast serves as an important first step to a healthier life—and a healthier next generation!

The case for breakfast is a strong one.  Research reveals that students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse’s office.  Eating breakfast is also positively linked with maintaining a healthy weight – and avoiding health problems associated with obesity. Given the current rates of childhood obesity and related health problems, it’s vital for children and families to eat healthier meals and snacks throughout the day.

Studies also show that children who skip breakfast are at an academic disadvantage: They have slower memory recall, make more errors and are more likely to repeat a grade.

APHIS Reaches Out to Tribal Extension Agents

Helping American Indians develop profitable farming and ranching businesses, engaging tribal youth in 4-H, enhancing natural resources on reservations, and reaching out to tribal communities about topics that are of interest to them are just some of the activities supported by the Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP). FRTEP is administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and conducts education programs on Indian reservations and Tribal jurisdictions through partnerships with the 1862 Land-Grant institutions. FRTEP extension agents serve as liaisons between the Tribes and USDA programs and services. The purpose of the FRTEP program is to support extension agents who establish extension education programs on the Indian Reservations and Tribal jurisdictions of Federally-Recognized Tribes. Program priorities reflect the following areas: 1) Development of sustainable energy; 2) Increased global food security; 3) Adaptation /mitigation of agriculture and natural resources to global climate change; 4) Reduction of childhood and adolescent obesity; and 5) Improved food safety.

Later this month, FRTEP agents will meet in Fort Collins, Colorado, to receive an overview of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), its programs, and expertise.  APHIS is a multi-faceted Agency that is responsible for protecting U.S. animal and plant health, and animal welfare.

USDA Proposes Professional Standards in National School Lunch, Breakfast Programs; Announces New Progress in Implementing Meal Standards

Today, USDA proposed the establishment of minimum national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition professionals who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

The standards, another key provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), aim to institute education and certification standards for school nutrition professionals. These new standards will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare and purchase healthy products to create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals.

As a former school nutrition director I can tell you that school nutrition professionals across the country are pleased with the new meal patterns established by the HHFKA, which requires schools to prepare healthier meals for 32 million children each day. Schools are at the forefront of national efforts to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our Nation’s children.