Good Nutrition in School Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

Perhaps you are trying to help your child lose weight, or you feel he or she may be in danger of becoming overweight or unhealthy because of their eating and exercise habits.

If so, it is important that you consider the impact of your child’s time at school as you think about what you need to change.

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and has been studied extensively by many governing agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or  Health Canada if your family resides in Canada – just to name a few. These agencies have produced reports and established guidelines like Canada’s Food Guide or the US version is My Plate to help parents and school systems understand how to make important lifestyle changes. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is an excellent resource that can help you identify your country’s food guide.  These guidelines are designed to encourage our children to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise.

Across the country, schools are beginning to offer more good food choices, and look at their physical education and extracurricular activities to ensure that they encourage good habits. Of course, your involvement and understanding are important if your child is going to get the right support while she or he is in school during the day. 

And, you need to ensure that your child understands the importance of CHOOSING healthy foods and participating in exercise programs, but the next step is to make sure these choices are AVAILABLE to your child.

Working with medical organizations, the USDA published a ‘Prescription for Change’, and ‘Healthy School Nutrition Environments’. These reports were meant to be used by schools to improve their nutritional program.

Here are some of the recommendations included in those reports.

  1. The Serving and Dining Environment

  2. The Federal, State, and local government must provide adequate funding for food and eating environments to support healthy eating.

  3. The dining space will be adequate, pleasant, and socially accommodating, and will accommodate all students and staff scheduled to eat at a certain time of day.

  4. Serving areas will be sufficient to ensure that every student has access to meals with a minimum wait time so that they have plenty of time to eat before their next class.

  5. The staff and administration of the school AND the students and parents will analyze the current environment, working together to create a space that matches the needs of all parties

Nutritional Concerns Regarding Meals and Foods

  1. Meals should comply with USDA nutritional standards and guidelines, and students should have plenty of food choices, with new foods introduced to keep the menu interesting and healthy.

  2. Food preparation and preferences should be varied enough to comply with various tastes and ethnic preferences or religious requirements.

  3. Additional food and drink offered, over and above meals served, e.g. vending machines and packaged ‘snacks’, will represent the 5 major food groups according to dietary guidelines.

  4. Students must have designated lunch periods, long enough for them to get their food and eat at a healthy pace.

  5. Lunch periods should be as close to the middle of the day as possible and should allow time for socialization and a relaxed eating pace.

  6. All decisions made by the school system regarding the type, variety, and quantity of food and drink to be sold in the school will be based on nutritional goals and sound guidelines, NOT on the profit the school can make

Nutrition and Health Focused Curriculum

  1. Kindergarten through Grade 12 classes should include education and information on healthy eating habits and the types of foods a child should eat to stay healthy and help them grow

Now that you understand the concerns and recommendations of the USDA and the national medical organizations, go to a school board meeting and talk to the board members about what they are doing to comply with these guidelines.

Childhood Obesity Rates

While it is great that the school boards are taking initiative to fight childhood obesity, there is certainly more nutrition education that needs to be done in schools. Obesity rates are not decreasing, but continue to go up. And nutritional education is more relevant than ever. The number of children and adolescents who are considered obese has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to data from the CDC. Data from 2015 to 2016 found almost 1 in 5 Americans between 6 and 19 were obese.

Beyond obesity, Americans’ eating habits often don’t meet the standards for a healthy diet. According to the CDC, most children don’t meet the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. Sugary beverages reportedly account for 10 percent of U.S. children’s caloric intake. Empty calories from sugars and fats account for about 40 percent of American kids’ daily calories on average. 

Develop Healthy Eating Habits

To help children develop healthy eating habits:

  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit sugary drinks.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.

Remember that small changes every day can lead to success!

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