CNP director: Obesity fight extends to home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2014

A recent study released by the publication, Childhood Obesity lists Alabama as one of the states leading the nation in combating student weight problems through healthier eating habits. This week, child nutrition coordinators from the three school systems in Covington County explaine exactly how each of them is working to give elementary school children a healthy start.

Stephanie Dillard, CNP coordinator for Andalusia City Schools, said following U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines has made a big difference for students.

“Our regulations have changed to where we have changed to whole wheat bread and a lot more fruits and vegetables,” Dillard said. “We’ve even changed lettuce from iceberg to romaine, because the darker fruits and vegetables are more nutritious.”

Dillard said the regulations even govern the kinds of beverages kids are served.

“We’ve never served soda,” she said. “We’ve always served milk, but it’s changed to, where we used to serve whole milk, now it has to be skim milk or 1 percent milk. All flavored milk has to be skim or fat free.”

As regulations have changed over the years – cutting down on the amount of salt and sodium in foods – parents and school officials alike have reported an increasing trend of students bringing their own condiments, such as salt, to school. Dillard said she has not yet encountered such a situation, but added salt is no longer added to foods.

“We’ve cut out salt because some foods already have so much sodium, there’s no need to add salt to it,” she said. “Especially processed foods have a lot of sodium.”

Dillard, who has served as CNP for 18 years, said she has witnessed a huge turn for the better in child nutrition, and credited the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which helped fund child nutrition and free lunch programs, as another big step in the right direction. But, Dillard said all of the school programs in the world won’t eradicate the childhood obesity problem if parents don’t do their parts.

“One of the great things about the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant that we use is that it exposes children to different and unique fruits and vegetables, so when they are at the grocery store with their parents, they are recognizing these different foods that they might not normally have noticed.

“And it all starts at home. I know what we are serving them in school. We’re doing what is right, but parents have to serve healthier foods at home.”

And Dillard said eating healthier foods is only half of the equation when it comes to fighting childhood obesity.

“Parents need to encourage their kids to get outside and play,” she said. “That’s where the obesity problem lies. Kids aren’t as active today as they used to be. They need 30 minutes of activity a day, five days a week.”

And while elementary students in Andalusia get a chance to be active during physical education classes, Dillard said more changes are coming in relation to school diets.

“There will be some new regulations about snack requirements outside of school lunches,” she said. “We haven’t seen what the requirements will be yet, but it will push healthy snacks at recess and fundraisers.”

But for children to reap the benefits of an all-around healthy lifestyle, Dillard said regulations into things like the food stamp program will need to change as well.

“It goes back to the home,” she said. “With the food stamp program, instead of it being regulated to only buy healthy items, they can by anything. They can get coke and candy. That needs to be looked into. The problem isn’t in the schools now. It’s outside of them where changes need to be made.”