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Weighing in on obesity: changes at school

9:04 AM, May 11, 2010   |    comments
  • One of the day's main ingredients -- chicken pattie sandwiches.
  • Administrators also had to transform menus so students eating two meals a day at school could get five servings of fruits and vegetables.
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Lunch at Powell Middle School starts in a small cafeteria with a handful of women who began preparing the meal hours before.

"We are the teachers of lunch education," said Powell Middle School cafeteria employee Elisha Costilow.

One of the day's main ingredients -- chicken pattie sandwiches.

Though perhaps not the healthiest option, the lunch crew says it's better than it used to be.

"The cheese is different. It's low fat, even on the pizzas. Our cereals have gone to low fat," said Powell Middle School Cafeteria Site Supervisor Danette Walker.

Four years ago, Tennessee was the first state to implement the coordinated school health plan.

That meant changes to school lunch were no longer an option, but a must.

"Really looking at putting more low calories options out there, reducing calories and increasing nutrients as much as we could," said Knox County School System Nutrition Facilitator Carolyn Perry-Burst.

For example, all vending machines in elementary and middle schools may only include milk, juice or water.

Administrators also had to transform menus so students eating two meals a day at school could get five servings of fruits and vegetables.

"It's possible for them to get five," Perry-Burst said.

"Possible" is the key word, because giving students a healthy option is a whole lot easier than making them eat it.

"Food preferences and habits start really young, before kids get to school," Perry-Burst said. "They are not overweight because of school, many of them came to us overweight."

"For many kids, their healthiest meal of the day is at school," Knox County Board of Education Chair Indya Kincannon said.

Thus, one of the Knox County school system's major strategies in improving student health is educating parents.

"Parents and the schools need to work hand in hand," Perry-Burst said.

One of the ways Knox County schools are working with families is through a computer program called GoTrybe.

"Over 450 videos are available. You can just drag it into your area," said Coordinated School Health Specialist Aneisa McDonald while pointing to work-out video choices on her computer screen.

With a log-in ID, GoTrybe allows students to create a work out they can do at home.

"I think this is an opportunity to combine fitness with technology," McDonald said.

While they're at school, a program called "Take 10" offers a more old fashioned alternative to exercise.

"G says guh like gate, gate. I says iiih like iguana, iguana," first grade teacher Danielle Richardson instructed her students at Sarah Moore Greene.

Richardson fills her class schedule with the various mental and physical challenges.

While students learn words and mathematical equations, they also participate in physical activities like jogging in place.

Kincannon would also like to improve student health by bringing in locally farmed, fruits and vegetables.

"Give priority to sustainable agriculture, people who are farming in our own communities," Kincannon said.

However, that points to one of the greatest challenges standing in the way of moving students toward better health while at school -- counting budgetary cash.

"We have to put together a meal for a child at around a dollar or something a day," Perry-Burst said.

"Yes, you can cut corners and get cheaper food, but in the long run, when you think of healthcare costs and the issues we have with obesity, we're not saving ourselves any money," Kincannon said.


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