For the past two school years I have regularly attended these monthly meetings to highlight the importance of student health on achievement as well as college and career readiness. Each month there is new data which shows the importance of strong school wellness policies. This month that data comes out of Chula Vista, California which strengthened their school district’s wellness policy two years ago.
In 2010, 25 district schools had obesity rates of 20 percent or higher. Half of the district’s sixth graders were overweight, a quarter were obese. A second survey this fall showed those rates dropping at each grade level. Overall, about 3.2 percent fewer students were overweight or obese this year…that translates to about 800 more normal-weight students in the district.
I’m not surprised to hear of such a dramatic difference in such a short period of time. That’s because I’ve seen the positive effects from implementing a strong wellness policy at both schools my children have attended. Both schools strengthened their policies to include not using food as a reward, healthier celebrations and healthier fundraising after I made the case with the School Based Decision Making Council (school council). While not always 100 percent effective in limiting the junk food and food rewards my children get at school, these policies go a long way in reducing the amount that’s coming at them.
I have repeatedly tried to make the case with the district so that students in all 51 schools can benefit from this kind of strong wellness policy. In addition to the monthly board meetings, I have addressed this issue with the Coordinated School Health Advisory Council, the yearly public forums for the Wellness Report Card, and the Equity Council. I’ve worked on this issue with a community partnership made up of members from the American Heart Association, Lexington Health Department, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.** In January, we presented our recommendations for strengthening the district wellness policy. The District Health Coordinator then recommended the District Health Team review those policy recommendations and bring the amended policy statements to the Board for approval. I hope that will happen in time to implement the new policy before the next school year begins.
In the meantime, I am heartened to see positive changes like the Mighty Men of Meadowthorpe Elementary School who thought outside the doughnut box. Instead of the former Doughnuts with Dads, their latest breakfast offered healthier fare including fresh fruit. Southern Middle School’s Yum Yum snack shop switched over from candy and soda sales to fresh fruit and vegetables. Sales soared and easily reached four times what they had been when candy was king. This reflects the findings from a new report released today by researchers at the University of Illinois. It shows how schools can improve nutrition standards without significant negative financial impact. My two main takeaways from the report were:
For the districts and school in the study, “doing the right thing” was more important than profit
Strong leadership was a key to success
Programs like Better Bites that help bring healthier choices to our schools and community are necessary but not sufficient. No matter how wonderful the program, it needs to be backed up by strong policy. Members of the school board, you have the authority to make that happen for all students in our district. Please fulfill that responsibility. Thank you.
** This was inspired by a partnership of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and the American Heart Association which successfully called on the Seattle School Board. They voted overwhelmingly in support of a changed amendment to keep unhealthy food and beverage ads out of schools.