CPS offers a bevy of nutritious choices that are not only healthful, but also appealing to students.
What if a single strategy could address the growing problem of childhood obesity, integrate wellness efforts at the local school level and encourage the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that influence and promote healthy lifestyle choices by students?
Local wellness policies in K-12 school— mandated by the federal government as part of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004—are indeed that opportunity. One that school foodservice directors, like Peggy Lee, director of foodservices in Chesapeake (VA) Public Schools, are looking to embrace as a practical solution to the growing concern many communities have about obesity in school age children.
"As it stands, we're all separate pieces," she says, referring to the up-to-now uncoordinated efforts of foodservice, nutrition and physical education programs in many schools. "A local wellness policy that encompasses all of our efforts will enable a district to integrate them and more effectively reach a common goal."—
Under the mandate, every district must develop and implement a local wellness policy by June 2006. CPS is well along in the process and provides a good model others can learn from.
Building Blocks to a Wellness Overhaul
On the state level, Virginia has encouraged similar wellness policies for some years, requiring each school in the state to establish a school health advisory board (SHAB).
As a long-standing member of her district's SHAB, Lee was faced with the challenge of developing realistic and concrete nutrition solutions for CPS foodservices.
"Our conversations about wellness and obesity issues identified what was—and unfortunately still is—happening with students in this country," says Lee.
When she assumed the position of director of foodservices in 2001, a wellness overhaul was a top priority. As Lee and the SHAB explored various ways to approach this challenge, they came across other forces at work. The Virginia Action for Healthy Kids (VaAHK), a nonprofit organization that addresses the epidemic of overweight, undernourished and sedentary youth, had laid groundwork for a state wellness policy by developing 'Nutrition Integrity Guidelines and Recommendations for Virginia'. Among the recommendations, schools were to provide age-appropriate and culturally sensitive instruction in health and physical education, offer healthful foods on school grounds, and provide quality daily physical education that would help develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors and confidence needed to be physically active for life. The guidelines were distributed to all school superintendents in the state.
As the lists of recommendations grew longer, the job Lee's department faced grew bigger.
"That's when the Nutrition Integrity Plan was born," says Lee.
Lee devised a comprehensive and ambitious three-year Nutrition Integrity Plan for the Department of Food Services that will serve as the nutrition component of Chesapeake's local wellness policy. The plan introduces major changes to the district's menus, service and production systems. (See above)
"When we started talking about obesity and what we could offer students to replace high fat, high sugar and high calorie items, there weren't many options that would appeal to students," says Lee. "
Manufacturers have evolved a number of their products to respond to the same health issues we're dealing with. In just the past year, we've been able to offer students more healthful options that, three years ago, were not cost effective if they were even on the market."
Developing the plan as a tri-part initiative allows for evaluations and adjustments along the way. Currently in the second phase of the policy's development, Lee and her team have modified some of the less successful initiatives as a result of the experience gained last year.
Take What They Say and Run With It
When the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 was finalized in, such efforts received an entirely new— and national—emphasis. Reauthorization calls for districts to develop and implement a formal wellness policy. (See sidebar on p. 30)
"Everything we had been doing, up to this point, served to spearhead that effort. We were evolving our policy in order to match the VaAHK requirements which helped prepare us for the policy expectations," says Lee.
The first step for Chesapeake—and many other districts, for that matter—was selfassessment.
"In order to move forward, we needed to evaluate where we were," says Lee. "Barbara Robinson, supervisor of health services, Tom Rhodes, supervisor of health and physical education and I each gave a presentation to the SHAB about our wellness efforts. These presentations allowed us an inside look at other efforts within our district."
As a result, the wellness committee drafted a wellness policy that will be presented to the school board this spring for approval by Lee's supervisor, Dr. James T Roberts, assistant superintendent for personnel and support services. Once approved, CPS will move forward, establishing the policy as part of the districts system.
"Collaboration is key," says Robinson. "Each school district is equipped with the expertise to create and implement a wellness policy. It's a matter of pulling together the right people to accomplish the right goals."
In addition to Lee, Robinson and Rhodes are members of CPS's Health Advisory Board. In fact, Robinson is its head.
"In order to make a better case for our wellness policy, we decided to measure the body mass index of every third grade student to find out if we had a problem and to establish a baseline," says Robinson. The plan calls for health services to continue to assess these students BMI's every two years for tracking purposes.
"Once we had hard evidence to review, we were able to develop a plan," says Robinson. "One of first areas we focused on was the vending program."
Healthy Vending Pilot
As in many schools, the school administration manages vending in the CPS, not foodservices. But based on the wellness teams policy recommendations, yogurt and water were added in vending machines in two high schools and three middle schools as part of a pilot effort.
While some officials were concerned that altering vending options might lead to a decline in revenue, that fear proved unfounded.
"What's noteworthy is that vending sales in the schools we piloted have not dropped even though we've changed the offerings," says Lee. Upon review of the pilot, the SHAB recommended expansion of the Healthy Vending Program to all schools in the district.
"We have an opportunity to change lifestyles during the school day, but the real challenge is to also have an impact on lifestyles at home," says Robinson.
On the physical education front, Tom Rhodes incorporates a number of activities that help to provoke students to be physically active regardless of their level of athleticism.
CPS and Chesapeake General Hospital entered into a partnership to provide elementary and intermediate schools with the Project Fit America program. Project Fit America is a national non-profit organization which develops academic programs in schools to help get children fit. The program consists of outdoor fitness equipment, grade-by-grade curriculum, ongoing support and assessment and is designed as a supplement to the physical education program, a resource to be used during students' recess time and by families during afterschool hours.
"One of Tom's philosophies is that students need to understand they don't need to be varsity athletes in order to get the benefits of being physically active," says Lee. "It's important to have Tom's voice as a part of this group."
Good Things Take Time
Healthy children make better learners.
That fundamental belief is what CPS used in developing a local wellness policy that says students need adequate, nourishing food and physical activity in order to grow, learn, maintain good health and achieve academic success.
"Realistically, we aren't going to see the effects of these changes right away," says Lee. "But we need to start now. Obesity is an epidemic in our country, and it's time for action. Small changes now can achieve major results over time."
PHOTO: JAY PAUL
The Bill Requires...
In an effort to help curb increasing rates of childhood obesity, Congress passed legislation requiring that districts participating in the federal school meals programs establish a local wellness policy by June 2006.
The policy must include, at a minimum:
• Set goals for nutrition education and physical activity
• Set nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages available on each school campus during the school day
• Ensure that local guidelines for reimbursable school meals meet the program requirements and nutrition standards set forth by federal regulations
• Set goals for other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness
• Involve a broad group of members of the community
• Draft a plan to measure implementation of policies
• Designate one or more persons with operational responsibility for ensuring that each school fulfills the district's local wellness policy.
Nutrition Integrity Plan for the Department of Food Services
Chesapeake Public Schools Chesapeake, VA
|School Meal ||1. Eliminate all fryers in elementary schools. Serve only baked items. |
2. Reduce the number of days that fried potatoes are served at middle schools from five to three and reduce the portion size served to students.
3. Increase number of salad varieties to students.
4. Lactose-free milk available daily.
|1. Reduce the number of days that fried potatoes are served at middle schools from three to two. |
2. Evaluate combination of foods available at the secondary level.
3. Offer additional fruit choices that are prepackaged and easier to eat.
4. Change frozen pizza from regular to whole wheat crust.
|1. Eliminate fried potatoes in all middle schools. |
2. Pilot no fried potatoes in a high school for evaluation of participation changes.
|Snacks (a la carte) ||1. Baked chips only |
2. Reduce sugar snacks.
3. Lowfat cookies and brownies
4. 77% of all snacks contain less than 30% calories from fat; 8% contain between 30-35%; 15% contain between 35-38%
|1. Eliminate all snacks that exceed 35% calories from fat. |
2. Eliminate snacks that have more than 35% sugar by weight.
3. Do not exceed the recommendations of the VaAHK for suggested portion sizes of snacks.
|1. Eliminate all snacks that exceed 30% calories from fat.|
|Beverages (a la carte) ||1. All beverages contain at least 25% fruit juice. |
2. Water available
3. 30%, 50% and 100% fruit juice available.
4. 1% milk available.
|1. Continue 2004-2005 plan.||1. Continue 2005-2006 plan.|
At a Glance:
Chesapeake Public Schools
Local School Wellness Policy Resources
Use the web resources below for more information, with web pages on policy requirements, sample policy language, examples of existing state and district policies in various wellness topics, the local process, reference materials, and links to even more resources.
The USDA's Team Nutrition website: www.fns.usda.gov/tn/Healthy/wellnesspolicy.html
8 Steps to a Successful Wellness Policy
The USDA has identified eight key steps to developing and implementing a local wellness policy in any district.
Adapted from The Local Process: How to Create and Implement a Local Wellness Policy, USDA's Team Nutrition