State leads way in obesity fight

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2014

When it comes to obesity rates, Alabama is often on the wrong end of the national list, leading the way among many age groups. But according to a recent study published in Childhood Obesity, the state is now among the best in the nation when it comes to elementary-school aged children. At schools in the Covington County School System, Child Nutrition Program Coordinator Carrie Patterson said obesity rates have slowly improved after years of cafeteria employees and school officials working to comply with standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which pushes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins as part of students’ diets.

“I feel the USDA nutrition standards that Alabama schools follow have not only encouraged our students to make better nutritional choices, but have also allowed us to expose them to a variety of fruits and vegetables through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant offered at some of our elementary schools,” Patterson said.

While the change in eating habits is yielding positive results statewide, Patterson said it is important that students continue making healthy dietary choices throughout the day, not just at breakfast and lunch.

“Our system Wellness Policy complements USDA standards and ensures that our students are only offered nutritional snacks throughout our system during the school day beyond the cafeteria meal,” she said.

According to the Childhood Obesity study, 16 states currently have laws that meet at least one provision of the USDA’s standards for snacks and drinks, while another 10 have laws that are partially meeting one or more of the provisions.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is the first to look into how state laws stack up against USDA standards.

According to information released by the RWJF, over the past few years, updated nutrition standards for school meals, developed in part based on scientific recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, have led to more than 30 million students getting more of what they need to be healthy (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy) and less of what they don’t (saturated fat, sodium and added sugar). And schools seemed to have stepped up to the plate, with approximately 90 percent of schools nationwide currently meeting the updated standards.

At schools across the county, Patterson said the fight against childhood obesity will continue as school officials work to meet and exceed all guidelines for healthy student diets.

“Our children are our future and we certainly want them to be healthy,” Patterson said. “I feel that our schools do a great job in promoting nutrition, education and encouraging healthy habits.”