School Nutrition: Making the Grade?
New policies aim 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, 17% 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
Starting 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
"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
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
"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
Keeping It Local
Specific guidelines are left to the discretion of each state, district and
local school board. But the policies must meet minimum federal guidelines,
which specify, for example, that vending machines be locked during meals, and
not be located in the cafeteria.
"What has worked so well is allowing each local school district to
design their own policies because what works in one district may not work in
another," says Mueller, a school food service director in Bloomington, Ill.
"Having discretion at the local level is key to the success of the
Foundations, cities, school boards, neighborhood organizations, food
companies, and parents across the country were involved in developing the
"Six thousand volunteers -- including dietitians, principals, students,
and parents -- are working together to help implement good nutrition and
quality physical activity in our nation’s schools," says Moag-Stahlberg,
whose organization helps create state teams that develop, implement, and
monitor the school wellness policies.