Friday, April 1, 2011

Other States Can Help TX Change Nutrition

A recent article in the Star Telegram brought attention to several educational issues outside of budget cuts that have become "hot topics" in the 82nd Texas Legislature. While "anti-bullying" and "truth in grading" bills have become central to the current debate surrounding public education, bills regarding changes in nutrition and physical education programs have lost attention in Texas.

These nutrition bills are however still progressing through the session and details on each can be found at the following links:

HB 127: relating to the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses; referred to Public Health.
HB 280: relating to requiring a health credit for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 281: relating to physical education credits required for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 643: relating to summer nutrition programs in school districts; referred to Agriculture and Livestock committee.
SB 185: relating to physical activity requirements for students in public schools; refereed to Education.
SB 225: relating to including in public school campus improvement plans and in local school health advisory council reports to school district boards of trustees certain goals and objectives or information in order to promote improved student health; referred to Education.

While the debate over nutrition in public schools has lost attention in Texas, it does remain an important topic of discussion and efforts to alter nutritional standards in many other states, including Pennsylvania and New York.

A recent New York Times article highlights steps being taken by schools, such as William D. Kelley, in Philadelphia. In 2003, a special project developed in Philadelphia to better nutrition in the area’s public schools. The project is sponsored by the Food Trust Mission—a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to “develop a comprehensive approach that combines nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, healthy food.” Their Comprehensive School Nutrition Policy Initiative is an attempt to give America’s youth “the skills, social support and environmental reinforcement needed to adopt long-term healthy eating habits.” Recent studies show that the project is working and has reduced “the incidence” of childhood obesity” by 50 percent in Philadelphia Schools. It is interesting to note that, in Philadelphia, one non-profit organization was central in changing nutritional standards in the city's schools. Rather than simply push legislative change, the Food Trust Mission worked directly with and in schools to implement their program.

This video, from ABC, explains the program and highlights its successes: 

Likewise, in New York City, successful school nutrition programs have helped students become more educated about healthy food choices. Jorge Collazo, the executive chef for the Department of Education, explains in a New York Times article that the system operates like a restaurant: the children are the “customers.” This attitude helped the system begin improving about seven years ago. According to the article, today schools in New York do not serve fried food, trans fat, or artificial ingredients to students. Also, it is worth noting that, while meals and nutrition in Texas schools are controlled by the Department of Agriculture, they are controlled by the Department of Education in New York. 

Both of these successes show that nutrition standards in public schools can be altered. In Texas, where the childhood obesity rate is 30 percent, addressing current nutritional issues in youth is critical to the future well-being of the state. Studying existing programs in other states where public school meal standards have been altered to provide better nutrition for students can help Texas politicians develop programs to implement change. 

-Kathryn Waggoner

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