Schools Targeted In Battle Over Childhood Obesity

September 1, 2006
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Schools Targeted In Battle Over Childhood Obesity
by Bob Gatty

Federal law requires schools to have wellness policies in place for the 2006-07 academic year.

Headlines across the nation are evidence of important changes that greeted kids as they went back to school in September.
In San Francisco: “Obesity War’s Latest Battlefront: the School Cafeteria.”
In Chicago: “Back to School: Students Will See a Food Makeover.”
In Portland: Schools Take Aim at Better Nutrition.”
Yes, there is a clamor these days for action to combat childhood obesity, and the nation’s schools are in the spotlight. But much of the change that’s taking place is a result of federal law that requires schools to implement wellness policies to help promote nutrition and physical activity for students.
According to the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the majority of school districts nationwide have responded in some way to the federal mandate. The SNA’s 2006 Back to School Trends Survey, conducted in July, found that more than 71% of school districts have made “significant efforts” during the past two years to offer healthy meal choices through the National School Lunch Program. More than 61% said they also made “significant” efforts to offer healthy choices in school breakfasts.
The survey came one month after school districts were to pass local wellness policies to comply with the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. According to the SNA, 86.5% of districts reported passing local wellness policies, with 8.8% saying that their policy was still being developed. More than 60% said that those policies involve general or broad nutrition guidelines, with only one-third involving specific nutrition guidelines.
Under the terms of the law, every school district that participates in the school lunch or school breakfast program must have developed such a policy by July 1. It required schools to set nutrition standards for all foods sold in school, including in vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores.
While there obviously were some laggards among school districts with respect to development and implementation of those policies, the SNA’s survey showed that 67% of districts are limiting the fat content of a la carte or vending items. Some 64% are limiting the hours of operation or availability of vending machines, and 43% are offering vegetarian options.
In addition, 38% of schools reported having policies that remove carbonated beverages from vending machines, up from 18% last year.
Changes to school lunches include increased offerings of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, providing more baked foods instead of deep-fried products, and limiting fat, sugar and caloric content. In addition, school districts reported emphasizing nutrition information, student education and more “marketing” of healthier choices.
“Schools are recognizing their responsibility to be part of the solution,” Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, executive director of Action for Healthy Kids, told the Chicago Tribune.
All of this comes as national attention is being focused on growing concerns over childhood obesity and related health issues. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 1980, the percentage of overweight children ages six to 11 has doubled, and the percentage of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 19 has tripled.
Programs Launched
The CDC has developed a multi-pronged program designed to combat obesity, including a “Healthy Youth!” component aimed at schools. Former President Clinton’s William J. Clinton Foundation has partnered with the American Heart Association to launch the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which also has developed an initiative designed to improve the nutrition profile of foods sold in schools. Both efforts also encourage physical activity as a key component of a balanced lifestyle for youngsters.
“Reversing the obesity epidemic requires a long-term, well-coordinated approach to reach young people where they live, learn and play,” the CDC points out. “Schools have a big part to play,” since more than 95% of young people are enrolled in schools, and many students eat a large portion of their daily food intake at school,” it adds.
Both the CDC and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation offer detailed and comprehensive programs to help school districts develop effective mechanisms for improving student health. In addition, the Alliance offers guidelines and tools for parents, teens, healthcare professionals, companies and the media.
Recently, the Alliance negotiated an agreement with major soft drink companies and the American Beverage Association to establish new guidelines to limit portion sizes and reduce the number of calories available to children during the school day. Under the guidelines, the number of calories available in beverages in schools is capped at 100 calories per container, except for certain milks and juices whose nutritional values warrant a higher number of calories.
Under the agreement, the beverage industry will spread the standards to 75% of the nation’s schools prior to the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year and will strive to fully implement the standards before the 2009-2010 school year begins, depending on the willingness of school districts to amend existing contracts.
The Alliance developed guidelines for competitive foods, which includes candy, snacks, side items and desserts sold by or in schools outside of the reimbursable meal program during the school day.
According to Snack Food Association nutritionist and public policy health consultant Lisa Katic, an analysis of those guidelines indicates that many snack products meet the recommendations, since they allow for a higher calorie count for products under 230 mg. of sodium per serving. Potato chips only can be sold in middle schools and high schools, according to the guidelines, since they exceed 150 calories per serving. Ironically, pretzels, which many nutritionists to consider to be one of the healthiest of snacks because of their low fat content, do not meet the guidelines’ terms because of their sodium content, Katic said.
However, it is important to note that the Alliance guidelines are not mandatory. They are meant as a guide to schools as they develop their nutrition programs. Schools that reach specific goals in creating a healthy school environment will receive recognition in the form of awards and publicity.
Meanwhile, the SFA has been working with the School Nutrition Association and is actively encouraging the development of school-based and other programs designed to increase physical activity among children. (See the related story in this issue by Lisa Katic about Kidnetic.com.) The SFA also supports PE4Life, an effort to restore physical education classes in public schools.
For more information on the CDC’s Healthy Youth! initiative, visit www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth.  For more information on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, visit www.healthiergeneration.org.
Competitive Food Guidelines
Candy, snacks, side items, and desserts sold by or in schools outside of the reimbursable meal program during the regular and extended school day must meet one of the following three numbered criteria.*
1. Any fruit with no added sweeteners or vegetables that are non-fried. Since fresh fruits and vegetables vary in size and calories naturally, they have no calorie limit. However, calories for packaged fruits and vegetables are easily ascertained according to package labeling. As such, calorie limits for these fruits and vegetables are specified as follows:
Elementary Middle High
fresh no limit no limit no limit
packaged in own juice 150 180 200
dried 150 180 200
2. Any reduced-fat or part-skim cheese ≤1.5 oz.
3. Any other food that meets all of the following criteria:
a. 35% of total calories from fat
i. Nuts, nut butters, seeds are exempt.
b. ≤10% of calories from saturated fat –OR– ≤1g saturated fat
c. 0 g trans fat
d. ≤ 35% sugar by weight
e. ≤230 mg sodium
i. Lowfat and nonfat dairy products can have ≤480 mg sodium.
ii. Vegetables with sauce and soups can have ≤480mg sodium if they contain ≥1 of the following: ≥2g fiber; or ≥10% DV of Vitamin A, C, E, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, or protein; or ≥1/2 serving of fruit or vegetables.
f. If products are dairy, they must be non-fat or low fat dairy
g. Meet 1 of the following calorie requirements
i. ≤100 calories
ii.Foods with ≤ 230mg sodium can have increased calorie limits per below if they contain ≥1 of the following: ≥2g fiber; or ≥10% DV of Vitamin A, C, E, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, or protein; or ≥1/2 serving of fruit or vegetables.:
≤• 150 calories for elementary schools
≤ • 180 calories for middle school
≤ • 200 calories for high school
iii.Vegetables with sauce and soups meeting 3.e.ii can have ≤150 calories if they contain ?2 of the following: ?2g fiber; or ?10% DV of Vitamin A, C, E, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, or protein; or ?? serving of fruit or vegetables.
Time of Day
The guidelines apply to competitive candy, snacks, side items, and desserts sold on school grounds during the regular and extended school day. The extended school day includes activities such as clubs, yearbook, band and choir practice, student government, drama, sports practices, intramural sports, and childcare / latchkey programs. The guidelines also apply to food supplied by schools during official transportation to and from school and school sponsored activities.
Source: Alliance for a Healthier Generation
Mark Your Calendars for Day in D.C. 2007
The Snack Food Association has announced that it’s reached agreement with the Sofitel Hotel in Washington, D.C., for the 2007 Day in D.C. Spring Summit, to be held May 15-18, 2007.
“The Sofitel was our headquarters hotel for the highly successful 2006 Spring Summit, and we are delighted to be returning,” says SFA president and CEO Jim McCarthy, who urges members to plan now to attend.
The Spring Summit includes visits to Capitol Hill to lobby members of the House and Senate on key issues, as well as special programming focused on governmental activities and developments. There also will be a full schedule of SFA committee and business sessions.
For a review of the 2006 Day in D.C. Spring Summit, visit www.sfa.org, where additional details will be announced as they develop. For more information, contact Jim McCarthy at 1-703-836-4500, ext. 201.

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