In looking back over the past decade, and how schools need to both feed kids and prevent them from becoming obese, it is clear that reform needs popular support. For instance, in “The School Food Struggle” we saw how the L.A. Unified School District was accused of self-sabotaging its own efforts by offering “ethnic” dishes. But to such a huge, diverse student body, at least some of the innovations that were criticized as being weird choices must have been things they ate at home.
There was also good news, as various official bodies gathered to give recognition and praise to some schools. In 2011, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation lauded 275 American schools for distinguishing themselves with “healthy eating and physical activity programs and policies based on stringent standards.”
The America’s Healthiest Schools list is announced annually. In 2019, 355 schools in 23 states were celebrated for their accomplishments. The large majority of those recognized serve high-need student populations, and all meet these criteria:
— Meet or exceed federal nutrition standards for school meals and snacks
— Offer breakfast daily
— Incorporate physical activity before, during or after the school day
— Implement district wellness policies and update progress annually
— Involve parents and community members in decision-making
Former CEO Ginny Erlich explained how the standards have to do with not only meals but the school stores, and with more opportunities for physical activities before and after school. In praising one particular institution, Southeast Polk Junior High School, Erlich mentioned the unlimited servings of fruits and vegetables and added,
They also have options for healthy beverages. They have daily physical education. They have intramural programs and quick physical activity breaks throughout the school day. Staff have gotten involved, too. They have regular exercise classes in the school fitness center which provides a great modeling opportunity for students to see the staff engaged in physical activity.
Alliance for a Healthier Generation is still quite active, led by current CEO Kathy Higgins. Since the Alliance’s inception, its programs have helped 48,000 schools and 29 million children. The organization works with businesses and communities to promote healthy practices in schools, including PE, daily recess, and meals that include fresh produce.
At that same time, Oregon was the state with the lowest childhood obesity rate, and an uncredited writer for The Register-Guard asked why. Even then, it was suspected that energy balance was not the only factor in play, and that complexity was added because “obesity results from an interplay of diet and lifestyle, with everything from entertainment choices to transportation systems playing a role.”
A study pointed out Oregon’s efforts to improve the nutrition level of school lunches, and the heightened nutritional information provided by restaurants, as elements of the overall improvement. One indicator seemed to stand head and shoulders above the rest:
Oregon has the nation’s highest percentage of babies who are breast-fed at the age of six months — 23.7 percent.
By a strange coincidence, conversely, the state with the highest rate of child obesity, Mississippi, had the lowest six-month breastfeeding rate. While the study pointed out that correlation is not always identical with causation, some attention should at least be paid.
Breastfeeding is a particularly acceptable suggestion to many people, because there is no known downside. When states look for ways to reduce child obesity, encouraging breast-feeding cannot possibly cause any harm.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Four Iowa schools recognized for childhood obesity reduction,” RadioIowa.com. 06/13/11
Source: Healthier Generation Announces 2019 List of “America’s Healthiest Schools”,” healthiestgeneration.org, 09/16/19
Source: “Our Impact,” HealthierGeneration.org,
Source: “Oregon kids (relatively) fit,” RegisterGuard.com, 07/20/11
Image by Laurie Avocado/(CC BY 2.0)