Local School Districts Need to Place a High Priority on Nutrition

The Editors

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Our children’s health must be as important as their education. As obesity rates continue to rise and poverty levels have reached new heights each year since the recession, this issue needs to be pushed to the forefront of every agenda, especially in our schools.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report 35.7 percent of Americans are now obese. The obesity rate in California is expected to increase from 23.8 percent in 2011 to 46.6 percent in 2030 if current trends continue, according to a new national report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health.

For children in the state of California, more than one in three children are still overweight. Furthermore, only 31 percent of California students are physically fit, based on national fitness standards.

Nutrition begins at school. If we educate our children on how to eat properly by providing healthy, fresh and wholesome meals, replete with vitamin and mineral packed ingredients, they will be significantly more likely to make healthy choices later in their lives.

Perhaps they will become the few students who reject Panda Express and other sodium and fat-laden choices that are offered up to many higher education students right on their campuses.

According to a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted a new policy to ensure the state’s largest school system buys only organic produce and free-range animal products.

In addition, the Oakland Unified School District receives fresh produce from nearby farms and has 23 produce markers on some school campuses to encourage students to continue eating healthy at home.

The Hayward Unified School District has made significant strides to make nutrition an important issue. They use Nutrient-Based Menu Planning approach, which provides the opportunity to serve foods that meet the nutritional guidelines set forth by the USDA and appeal to the taste preferences of our students.

While more than 70 percent of schools in the nation serve lunches that meet the guidelines for nutrients like vitamins, minerals and protein, many provide meals that are high in fat, salt and sugar, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

Yet, some of our local districts still have fast food restaurants in their schools.

A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 found 23.5 percent of high schools offered fast food from places like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, for example, offers a Burger King on campus.

School lunches must meet a minimum calorie limit set by the government, but it’s up to individual schools to decide how the calories are apportioned. If a meal has not reached the limit, the cook can toss on extra slices of bread to bring up the count, while offering hardly any additional nutritional value.

We firmly believe positive change is worth its weight in gold, even if it is made in small increments.

When school districts large and small begin enacting more commitments to organic produce, healthy protein options, and complete solutions to child nutrition, our region can only benefit. More state farmers will be able to compete in the organic and whole foods market, and solutions-based food services companies will be able to thrive in a supportive environment.

Nearly everyday, we teach our children good and bad, wrong and right. Just like any other value, we must encourage and support healthy eating choices and lifestyles for the good of everyone.