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December 19, 2013

Poverty influences children's early brain development

University of Wisconsin-Madison News

Poverty may have direct implications for important, early steps in the development of the brain, saddling children of low-income families with slower rates of growth in two key brain structures, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

By age 4, children in families living with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line have less gray matter -- brain tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions -- than kids growing up in families with higher incomes.

"This is an important link between poverty and biology. We're watching how poverty gets under the skin," says Barbara Wolfe, professor of economics, population health sciences and public affairs and one of the authors of the study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

The differences among children of the poor became apparent through analysis of hundreds of brain scans from children beginning soon after birth and repeated every few months until 4 years of age. Children in poor families lagged behind in the development of the parietal and frontal regions of the brain -- deficits that help explain behavioral, learning and attention problems more common among disadvantaged children.

The parietal lobe works as the network hub of the brain, connecting disparate parts to make use of stored or incoming information. The frontal lobe, according to UW-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak, is one of the last parts of the brain to develop.

"It's the executive. It's the part of the brain we use to control our attention and regulate our behavior," Pollak says. "Those are difficulties children have when transitioning to kindergarten, when educational disparities begin: Are you able to pay attention? Can you avoid a tantrum and stay in your seat? Can you make yourself work on a project?"

The maturation gap of children in poor families is more startling for the lack of difference at birth among the children studied.

"One of the things that is important here is that the infants' brains look very similar at birth," says Pollak, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health. "You start seeing the separation in brain growth between the children living in poverty and the more affluent children increase over time, which really implicates the postnatal environment."

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November 6, 2013

Childhood Poverty Linked to Poor Brain Development

Caroline Cassels

Exposure to poverty in early childhood negatively affects brain development, but good-quality caregiving may help offset this effect, new research suggests. A longitudinal imaging study shows that young children exposed to poverty have smaller white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes, as measured during school age and early adolescence.

"These findings extend the substantial body of behavioral data demonstrating the deleterious effects of poverty on child developmental outcomes into the neurodevelopmental domain and are consistent with prior results," the investigators, with lead author Joan Luby, MD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, write.

However, the investigators also found that the effects of poverty on hippocampal volume were influenced by caregiving and stressful life events.
The study was published online October 28 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Powerful Risk Factor

Poverty is one of the most powerful risk factors for poor developmental outcomes; a large body of research shows that children exposed to poverty have poorer cognitive outcomes and school performance and are at greater risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders. However, the researchers note, there are few neurobiological data in humans to inform the mechanism of these relationships.

"This represents a critical gap in the literature and an urgent national and global public health problem based on statistics that more than 1 in 5 children are now living below the poverty line in the United States alone," the authors write.

To examine the effects of poverty on childhood brain development and to understand what factors might mediate its negative impact, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine total white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes in 145 children aged 6 to 12 years who had been followed since preschool.

The researchers looked at caregiver support/hostility, measured observationally during the preschool period, and stressful life events, measured prospectively. The children underwent annual behavioral assessments for 3 to 6 years prior to MRI scanning and were annually assessed for 5 to 10 years following brain imaging. Household poverty was measured using the federal income-to-needs ratio.

"Toxic" Effect

The researchers found that poverty was associated with lower hippocampal volumes, but they also found that caregiving behaviors and stressful life events could fully mediate this negative effect.

"The finding that the effects of poverty on hippocampal development are mediated through caregiving and stressful life events further underscores the importance of high-quality early childhood caregiving, a task that can be achieved through parenting education and support, as well as through preschool programs that provide high-quality supplementary caregiving and safe haven to vulnerable young children," the investigators write.

In an accompanying editorial, Charles A. Nelson, PhD, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Massachusetts, notes that the findings show that early experience "weaves its way into the neural and biological infrastructure of the child in such a way as to impact development trajectories and outcomes."

"Exposure to early life adversity should be considered no less toxic than exposure to lead, alcohol or cocaine, and, as such it merits similar attention from health authorities," Dr. Nelson writes.

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September 23, 2013

Poverty Can Trump a Winning Hand of Genes

Alison Gopnik
Changes in our environment can actually transform the relation between our traits and the outside world.

We all notice that some people are smarter than others. You might naturally wonder how much these differences in intelligence depend on genes or upbringing. But that question, it turns out, is impossible to answer. That's because changes in our environment can actually transform the relationship among our traits, our upbringing and our genes.

The textbook illustration of this is a dreadful disease called PKU. Some babies have a genetic mutation that makes them unable to process an amino acid in their food, and it leads to severe mental retardation. For centuries, PKU was incurable. Genetics determined whether someone suffered from the syndrome, which gave them a low IQ. Then scientists discovered how PKU works. Now, we can immediately put babies with the mutation on a special diet. Whether a baby with PKU has a low IQ is now determined by the food they eat--by their environment.

We humans can figure out how our environment works and act to change it, as we did with PKU. So if you're trying to measure the relative influence of human nature and nurture, you have to consider not just the current environment but also all the possible environments that we can create. This doesn't just apply to obscure diseases. In the latest issue of Psychological Science, Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues report a study of the relationship among genes, SES (socio-economic status, or how rich and educated you are) and IQ. They used statistics to analyze the differences between identical twins, who share all DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only some.

When psychologists first started studying twins, they found identical twins much more likely to have similar IQs than fraternal ones. They concluded that IQ was highly "heritable"--that is, due to genetic differences. But those were all high SES twins. Erik Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and his colleagues discovered that the picture was very different for poor, low-SES twins. For these children, there was very little difference between identical and fraternal twins: IQ was hardly heritable at all. Differences in the environment, like whether you lucked out with a good teacher, seemed to be much more important.

In the new study, the Bates team found this was even true when those children grew up. IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we've changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.

Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.

But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths. How your genes shape your intelligence depends on whether you live in a world with no schooling at all, a world where you need good luck to get a good education or a world with rich educational possibilities. If we could change the world for the PKU babies, we can change it for the next generation of poor children, too.

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April 29, 2013

No Rich Child Left Behind

Sean F. Reardon

Here's a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children's success in school than race.


In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?


If not the usual suspects, what's going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.


But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and "improving teacher quality," but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children's earliest environments may be even more important. Let's invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

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March 6, 2013

The Competition Drug

Roger Cohen

THIS is America's college town par excellence. Kids from all over the world flock to Boston to learn. I have a son who is a freshman here. Last autumn, as he entered school, I listened to warnings about the dangers of binge drinking. I think they missed the point. The real epidemic involves so-called smart drugs, particularly Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) but so freely available as to be the pill to take whenever academic pressure requires pulling an all-nighter with zero procrastination to get a paper done.

"Just popped an Addie, so I'm good to go" -- this sort of pretest attitude has become pervasive. Conversations with several students suggested Adderall was always available, costing from $2 to $5 a pill. Adderall has become to college what steroids are to baseball: an illicit performance enhancer for a fiercely competitive environment. What to say to doctors to get a prescription is now so widely known among students -- "It's like my thoughts are channel-surfing and I can't stop" -- as to have become a kind of joke.

"If there are no A.D.H.D. symptoms prior to college I have a very hard time writing a prescription," Jill Kasper, a pediatrician, told me. "But if somebody wants a prescription for Adderall, they can find someone to give it to them." The problem is that Adderall is dangerous, a Class 2 controlled substance like cocaine. While it has helped countless A.D.H.D. sufferers, it can also lead down a dark road of dependency, ever higher doses, fight-or-flight anxiety levels, sleeplessness and depression.

Here, in his own words, is the Adderall story of Steven Roderick, 24, a smart, soft-spoken, lost senior studying health science at the University of Massachusetts Boston:

I started taking it my first year in college. My performance had always fluctuated a lot. It was hard to pay attention, even in classes I was interested in. I was getting D's. I felt something had to change. Adderall flies around campus. The first time I took it I wrote a paper for an astronomy class that was out of this world. I could not believe it -- I was so inspired it made me want to be a doctor! I thought -- oh my God! -- this is the whole problem. You have the ability. You are intelligent. You just don't have the link between intelligence and the capacity to be productive. The pill is the link. I felt literally unstoppable.

I went to the doctor, said I'd like to give Adderall a try. There were no diagnostic procedures. Doctors give in too easily. I did not think there could be a risk later on. I started on 20 milligrams. I went from D's and F's to straight A's. But your brain adapts, you have to increase the dose, and by 2011 I was up to 45 milligrams. In the spring of that year I started to feel Adderall was my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. Because I could not sleep I went to see my psychopharm, and she prescribed me Ativan to sleep. That worked O.K. for a while. But I really ran into trouble last year. I was up to 65 milligrams, and then during finals went to 80, even 120, milligrams, and I was just locked into this Adderall-Ativan cycle. My doctor seemed scatterbrained. She'd prescribe something but not follow up.

It's a complicated dependency. I mean I never took Adderall to get high, never took it in a way that was not academically oriented; and I think there's a distinction between dependency and addiction, taking something for a purpose or for a rush. But I feel awful. My baseline anxiety level would be most people's highest anxiety level. The drop of a pin makes me spin around. I am living at home. My parents are clueless, and it is hard to discuss with them, although my Mom helps me now. I alternate between 'on' and 'off' states -- I come off the Adderall, take Ativan and sleep for days. I miss appointments. I know I need to go to the appointments, but I wonder if I will be functional enough.

Adderall suddenly turned its back on me. It enabled me to focus, got me to a higher place academically. But then I could no longer rely on it. I was on my own. And although I have less than three credits to go, I may have to withdraw from school because I have not been able to make it to enough classes. "Look, I am in a culture that constantly justifies the means to an end. So how do we persuade people not to take it? All you hear is how impossible it will be to get a job when you get out, and you are going more and more into debt, and you think without this I won't be top of the class. With other drugs you know you are ruining your life. But Adderall manipulates you into thinking you are doing what is needed to have a great life.

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December 27, 2012

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Mark Bittman

Not long ago few doctors - not even pediatricians - concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

"I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago," David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called "adult-onset" diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. "Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we're seeing are Type 2."

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay ("Viewpoint") in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity."

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it's merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Given the role that nutrition plays -- from conception onward -- in brain development, learning, etc., clearly this is an achievement gap issue.

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February 4, 2012

'Business as usual' isn't working for Madison schools

Nichelle Nichols:

I am running for the Madison School Board because I care about the state of our public schools and this community.

The facts are: I am employed at the Urban League of Greater Madison and spoke in support of Madison Prep as a parent and citizen. Am I running because Madison Prep was voted down? No. My focus is broader than the charter school proposal, but the Madison Prep vote was a defining moment in my decision to declare candidacy.

It became apparent to me as I sat in the auditorium that night that we can no longer afford to wait for our district to take the casual approach to the urgent matter of minority under-achievement. Our entire community is affected by the failure to do so.

Every child in this district -- from the at-risk, the middle-of-the-road student, to the most academically talented -- should have an equal opportunity to thrive in our school system. And here's the reality, Madison -- we are not delivering.

It's been hard for us to accept that we are a different community than we were 10 years ago, but we are. If we move beyond politically correct conversations about race and poverty, we'd readily realize that we cannot go about "business as usual."

The 2012 Madison School Board Contest:

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)


Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores


Listen to the recent DCCPA candidate forum via this 75MB mp3 audio file.

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January 31, 2012

American school kids trash Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

It was Jamie Oliver's toughest challenge... getting US ­youngsters to ditch junk food and eat a healthier diet.

But six months after he ­convinced an LA school to swap fattening burgers for low-calorie salads, his ­revamped menu is - literally - being binned.

Hundreds of students at West Adams Preparatory High School, where his hit show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was filmed, are ­refusing to eat his cuisine.

Instead, bins are overflowing with the TV chef's veg curries, quinoa salads, Thai ­noodles and wheatbread burgers.

Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

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Old-school system needs its own recess

Chris Rickert:

The Janesville Gazette reported last week that principals at some of the city's public elementary school are attributing some major positive academic and behavioral trends to a relatively minor change: moving recess from after to before lunch.

I remember the post-lunch recess -- chasing girls, pick-up football, the bloody nose I gave my best friend.

In fact, I remember school-day and school-year schedules being much the same as the ones my 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son experience at their Madison public elementary school -- from the timing of recess, to summer vacation, to days off to honor such notables as Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (keep in mind this was the Chicago area, which has a large Polish population).

I suppose that could be because at some point decades ago, the public education establishment discovered the perfect academic schedule and, well, why tinker with something that works?

Janesville's experience suggests something else, though: that post-lunch recess is just another public education tradition among a slew of public education traditions that could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

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December 31, 2011

L.A. schools' healthful lunch menu panned by students

Teresa Watanabe:

It's lunchtime at Van Nuys High School and students stream into the cafeteria to check out the day's fare: black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other items on a new healthful menu introduced this year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don't even bother to line up. Iraides said the school food previously made her throw up, and Mayra calls it "nasty, rotty stuff." So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.

"This is our daily lunch," Iraides says. "We're eating more junk food now than last year."

For many students, L.A. Unified's trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

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December 28, 2011

How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid's Lunch

Lucy Komisar:

An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students -- a captive market -- fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.

Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.

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November 22, 2011

Recipe for a revolution in school lunches Healthful offerings like saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and free-range chicken are a low-cost hit with low-income students.

Monica Eng:

For lunch, Josh Rivera chose a plate of saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and a Greek-marinated kebab of free-range chicken raised without antibiotics.

"Last year I used to get a burger and pizza, but they were really greasy," the high school sophomore said. "This is a lot tastier than before."

Lynn Vo, a sophomore who was eating organic fruit salad along with penne in a Bolognese sauce made with grass-fed beef, agreed. "Last year the pasta tasted like sweat," she said. "But this year it's really good."

It's astonishing enough that notoriously picky high schoolers would have something nice to say about their cafeteria, in this case the one at Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill., just north of Chicago. But these meals containing premium ingredients are provided free to low-income students or sold for $2.25 at most.

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Life Expectancy PowerPoint

Hans Rosling:

Life expectancy is a very important measure when we compare the health of different countries. However, students often misunderstand some of the characteristics of life expectancy. This PowerPoint presentation focuses on two of these characteristics:

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November 10, 2011

Reading, Writing And Roasting: Schools Bring Cooking Back Into The Classroom

Allison Aubrey:

Lots of kids have tried lentils. But what about Ethiopian-style lentils, accompanied by injera bread, couscous and cucumber salad?

Fourth graders in Santa Fe, N.M. prepared this lunch feast themselves as part of a nutrition education program called Cooking with Kids. And nutrition experts say programs like this one are not just about expanding timid kids' palates.

Even as home economics classes have been phased out in recent years, some schools are bringing cooking back. And a new study that evaluates cooking curriculum says these hands-on classes do more than just prepare students to cook a decent meal.

"Teachers and principals are seeing how the classroom cooking experience helps support critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills," says study author Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, a nutrition researcher at Colorado State University. The study appears this week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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November 9, 2011

Banning Sugary Soda From School Fails to Cut Teen Consumption, Study Finds

Nicole Ostrow:

Banning sugar-filled sodas from American schools as an effort to combat childhood obesity doesn't reduce overall consumption levels of sweetened beverages, research found.

In U.S. states that banned only soda, about 30 percent of middle-school students still purchased sugary drinks like sports and fruit beverages at school, similar to states that had no policy, according to a study released online today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. In states that banned all sugar-sweetened beverages, students still consumed the drinks outside of school, the researchers said.

Over the past 25 years, children have gotten more of their calories from sugary beverages and consumption of the drinks has been associated with childhood obesity and weight gain, the authors said. Today's study is the first to look at whether efforts by states to curb these drinks really works, said Daniel Taber, the lead study author.

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October 25, 2011

Schools rolling out new fundraisers: food truck nights

Angel Jennings:

Echo Lau drove to Whitney High School on a recent Monday evening to pick up her kids. She left with dinner.

The student parking lot at the Cerritos campus is transformed every week into a congested food truck stop as eight mobile eateries attract the business of loyal followers, parents and students.

But this isn't a typical stop for these catering trucks; this is a school fundraiser, in which a portion of the proceeds go directly to Whitney to help pay for a new multi-media center.

Outdoor food courts are popping up in the parking lots of at least a dozen high schools across Southern California with more on the way. Financially strapped public schools -- hit hard by budget cuts, new fundraising guidelines, and fewer donors -- have found a way to capitalize on the food truck craze.

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October 4, 2011

Diet soda linked to weight gain

Edward Martin:

If the FDA won't go after diet sodas for all the dangerous chemicals they contain, maybe the FTC can take action for false advertising.

There's nothing "diet" about diet sodas. After all, studies have linked them to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart problems, and more.

And now, yet another study confirms that people who drink the most diet soda have the biggest bellies.

Researchers from the University of Texas medical school examined data on 474 seniors who took part in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, and found that the waistlines of those who drank diet soda grew 70 percent more than those who didn't drink the stuff during the average follow-up of nearly 10 years.

And the more they drank, the more they grew: The researchers say those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had five times the increase in belly size than those who drank no soda, according to the study presented at a recent American Diabetes Association meeting.

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Denmark taxes fatty products

Richard Orange:

Denmark is to impose the world's first "fat tax" in a drive to slim its population and cut heart disease.

The move may increase pressure for a similar tax in the UK, which suffers from the highest levels of obesity in Europe.

Starting from this Saturday, Danes will pay an extra 30p on each pack of butter, 8p on a pack of crisps, and an extra 13p on a pound of mince, as a result of the tax.

The tax is expected to raise about 2.2bn Danish Krone (£140m), and cut consumption of saturated fat by close to 10pc, and butter consumption by 15pc.

"It's the first ever fat-tax," said Mike Rayner, Director of Oxford University's Health Promotion Research Group, who has long campaigned for taxes on unhealthy foods.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:23 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 26, 2011

A New Law on School Fitness Data Faces Obstacles

Morgan Smith:

Texas children are fat -- and getting fatter.

It is something state policy makers have known and have struggled to address for years. In the last decade, the Legislature has passed laws that set nutritional standards for school meals, required body mass index screenings for children and adolescents, and instituted physical activity requirements.

The latest effort came during this year's legislative session with a bill passed by Senator Jane Nelson, Republican of Flower Mound, that allows a deeper study of schools' fitness data.

Under the new law, researchers can access unidentified individual student data, which they say will help bolster aggregate analyses that already show correlations between physical fitness and academic performance, gang activity and absenteeism.

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September 20, 2011

Alabama public schools turn to Wii to help fight childhood obesity

Marie Leech:

Ask most third-graders whether they'd rather run laps in hundred-degree temperatures or play a video game, and it doesn't take a genius to correctly predict their answer.

What did take some brainpower, however, was figuring out how use that fondness for electronic games to get some of the same benefits as running.

Wee Can Fight Obesity is a fitness program for third-graders in Alabama public schools, and uses the Wii Fit Plus Bundle and EA Sports Active video games to improve physical fitness three days a week during P.E. class.

The one-year program is in 30 schools this year, and was in 30 different schools last year. The goal is to eventually offer the program to every elementary school.

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September 11, 2011

The Great Candy Debate


"Motivation is part of education and classroom teachers should have input because they are the ones doing the work. "
"Not all candy purchases are used for motivation."
"The question becomes do we want to be the food police in the schools. "
"Teachers and principals might not understand why this issue is being pushed so hard. "
---Administration Response to "Candy Purchases" issue (Minutes of the Finance Committee meeting 8-22-11)

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September 6, 2011

Parents of seven told: Your children are too fat, so you will never see them again

Jane Simpson:

Four obese children are on the brink of being permanently removed from their family by social workers after their parents failed to bring their weight under control.

In the first case of its kind, their mother and father now face what they call the 'unbearable' likelihood of never seeing them again.

Their three daughters, aged 11, seven and one, and five-year-old son, will either be 'fostered without contact' or adopted.
Torn apart: The parents, far left and right, with six of their children who they fear will be taken away from them

Torn apart: The parents, far left and right, with six of their children who they fear will be taken away from them

Either way, the family's only hope of being reunited will be if the children attempt to track down their parents when they become adults.

The couple, who have been married for nearly 20 years and are not being named to protect their children's identities, were given a 'draconian' ultimatum three years ago - as reported at the time by The Mail on Sunday.

Warned that the children must slim or be placed in care, the family spent two years living in a council-funded 'Big Brother' house in which they were constantly supervised and the food they ate monitored.

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August 23, 2011

Seoul School Lunch Vote to Test Sentiment on Welfare

Evan Ramstad:

A municipal vote in Seoul on Wednesday over free school lunches is shaping up as a test of South Koreans' sentiment on government welfare spending, and the outcome is expected to influence races in parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a member of the conservative Grand National Party that controls the Parliament and presidency, pushed for the referendum as a challenge to the city council's decision to expand a free-lunch program.

The council, which is controlled by the opposition Democratic Party, earlier this year voted to provide free school lunches to all of Seoul's 850,000 elementary and middle-school students, at a cost of about $378 million a year. Supporters of the free-lunches-for-all policy say it removes the stigma that recipients of free lunches face.

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August 10, 2011

A New Tactic To Encourage Mothers To Breast-Feed

Shirley Wang:

Public-health officials are shifting tactics in an effort to encourage more women to breast-feed their babies--they are pushing hospitals to change their maternity practices.

The percentage of women who breast-feed is well below public-health goals, according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals are key to encouraging breast-feeding because the steps taken immediately after birth are essential to help women establish an adequate milk supply and effective nursing practices. If a woman doesn't really try breast-feeding until a week after giving birth, she probably won't be successful, experts say.

"What happens in the first three days can make or break your breast-feeding success," says Jane Morton, a pediatrician at Burgess Pediatrics in Menlo Park, Calif., who helped develop a breast-feeding medicine program at Stanford University.

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July 27, 2011

McDonald's to Make Nutrition Push

Melodie Warner:

McDonald's Corp. plans to promote more nutritional options, such as automatically including fruit or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.

The fast-food giant said the new Happy Meal, being rolled out in September, will have about 20% fewer calories and less fat.

The company also will promote nutrition in its national kids' advertising and Happy Meal packaging.

Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to promote environments that support healthy choices through her "Let's Move" initiative.

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July 15, 2011

State bans unhealthy food sales in schools

Kay Lazar:

Sugary soft drinks, diet sodas, and artery-clogging food will be a thing of the past at Massachusetts public school snack shops, vending machines, and a la carte cafeteria lines under rules unanimously approved yesterday by state health regulators.

The nutrition standards adopted by the Public Health Council take effect in the 2012-2013 school year and are believed by advocates to be among the most comprehensive in the country.

But the council - an appointed panel of doctors, consumer advocates, and professors - delayed a ban on sweetened, flavored milk until August 2013 to give schools more time to find other ways to encourage children to drink milk.

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July 8, 2011

Long live the fat American Obesity may threaten life expectancy. Or maybe not

The Economist:

AMERICA'S obesity epidemic is so called for a reason. Roughly one in three adults is obese. In 2008 close to 25m Americans were diabetic, according to a study published on June 25th. Nevertheless, Americans are living longer than ever. In 2007 the average life expectancy at birth was 78 years. This follows decades of progress. The question is whether obesity might change that.

National progress in life expectancy masks wide local disparities, according to a study published on June 15th and written by researchers at the University of Washington and Imperial College London. Men in Holmes County, Mississippi, for example, have a life expectancy of 65.9 years, the same as men in Pakistan and 15.2 years behind men in Fairfax, Virginia. Gaps between America's counties have widened since the early 1980s. Most alarming, 702 counties, or 30% of those studied, saw a statistically significant decline in life expectancy for women from 2000 to 2007; 251 counties saw a statistically significant decline for men.

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June 21, 2011

School Spotlight: Oregon Middle School greenhouse will supply students with veggies

Pamela Cotant:

The locally grown movement has reached Oregon Middle School where vegetables grown over the summer in its new hoop-style greenhouse will be served to students when classes resume.

"We wanted to get some things cranked up so in the fall we can pull off our first salad in the cafeteria," said Nate Mahr, eighth-grade science teacher.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, watermelon and pumpkins have been started. Salad greens will be grown right when students come back and raspberries also will be planted in the fall.

"(We're) trying to have some of the food locally produced," said Darren Hartberg, eighth grade health teacher. "That's what will be happening under this piece of plastic."

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CDC: 1 in 4 high schoolers drink soda every day

Mike Stobbe:

A new study shows one in four high school students drink soda every day -- a sign fewer teens are downing the sugary drinks.

The study also found teens drink water, milk and fruit juices most often - a pleasant surprise, because researchers weren't certain that was the case.

"We were very pleased to see that," said the study's lead author, Nancy Bener of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, a quarter have at least one soda each day. And when other sugary drinks like Gatorade are also counted, the figure is closer to two-thirds of high school students drinking a sweetened beverage every day.

That's less than in the past. In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than three-quarters of teens were having a sugary drink each day, according to earlier research.

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June 17, 2011

L.A. Becomes First Big School District To Ban Chocolate Milk

Aprl Fulton:

In the battle for nutrition bragging rights, Los Angeles has beat New York -- at least when it comes to scratching chocolate milk and other less-healthful items from the school lunch menu.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted 5-2 on a new dairy contract to remove flavored milk from school menus, the Los Angeles Times reports. The district also banned sodas and chicken nuggets recently in its battle against childhood obesity. "By the fall the district will be a national leader," Matthew Sharp, with California Food Policy Advocates, tells the Times.

But the question is, will kids reach for the plain stuff?

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June 1, 2011

Skin patch could cure peanut allergy

The UK Telegraph:

A revolutionary skin patch that may cure thousands of deadly peanut allergy has been developed by paediatricans.

Researchers believe it presents one of the best possible ways of finding an effective treatment for a life threatening reaction to peanuts.

Developed by two leading paediatricians the device releases minute doses of peanut oil under the skin.

The aim is to educate the body so it doesnt over-react to peanut exposure.

Human safety trials have started in Europe and the United States and it is hoped that the patch could become become available within 3-4 years.

One of its two French inventors, Dr Pierre-Henri Benhamou, said: We envisage that the patch would be worn daily for several years and would slowly reduce the severity of accidental exposure to peanut.

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May 21, 2011

Food Is Political Says Outspoken Chef Alice Waters

The Wall Street Journal:

According to food revolutionary Alice Waters, what we choose to eat says as much about our values as the way we vote. In an interview with WSJ's Alan Murray, the author and chef outlines her vision for thoughtful eating and sustainable farming, while accusing corporations of having little interest in health and nutrition.

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May 12, 2011

Ill. lawmaker says raising obese kids should cost parents at tax time

Hannah Hess:

An Illinois lawmaker says parents who have obese children should lose their state tax deduction.

"It's the parents' responsibility that have obese kids," said state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. "Take the tax deduction away for parents that have obese kids."

Cultra has not introduced legislation to deny parents the $2,000 standard tax deduction, but he floated the idea Tuesday, when lawmakers took a shot at solving the state's obesity epidemic.

With one in five Illinois children classified as obese and 62 percent of the state's adults considered overweight, health advocates are pushing a platter of diet solutions including trans fat bans and restricting junk food purchases on food stamps.

Today, the Senate Public Health Committee considered taxing sugary beverages at a penny-per-ounce, in effect applying the same theory to soda, juices and energy drinks that governs to liquor sales. Health advocates say a sin tax could discourage consumption, but lawmakers are reluctant to target an industry supports the jobs of more than 40,000 Illinoisans.

"It seems like we just, we go after the low-hanging fruit, where its easy to get," said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. He said the state needs to form a comprehensive plan to address physical fitness and disease prevention, rather than taking aim at sugary drinks.

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Chocolate Milk on School Menus Under Scrutiny

Raven Clabough:

Does the Nanny State have no bounds? Apparently not, as even beverages are at risk. The newest example of "government knows best" can be found in public schools, where chocolate milk is soon to be banned in an effort to target childhood obesity.

MSNBC reports, "With schools under increasing pressure to offer healthier food, the staple on children's cafeteria trays has come under attack over the very ingredient that made it so popular-sugar."

Some school districts have already moved towards removing flavored milk from the menu. Others have sought milk products that are flavored with sugar, a healthier alternative to high-fructose corn syrup.
In the state of Florida, the Board of Education is currently considering a statewide ban of chocolate milk in schools. School boards in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, California, have already done so. Similarly, Los Angeles Unified's Superintendent John Deasy has announced plans to push for the removal of chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus.

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May 4, 2011

Combining exercise with school lessons could boost brain power

Jeannine Stein:

Physical education classes may be scarce in some schools, but an activity program combined with school lessons could boost academic performance, a study finds.

Research presented recently at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver looked at the effects of a 40-minute-a-day, five-day-a-week physical activity program on test scores of first- through sixth-graders at a public school. This program was a little different from most, since it incorporated academic lessons along with exercise.

For example, younger children hopped through ladders while naming colors found on each rung. Older children climbed on a rock wall outfitted with numbers that challenged their math skills. The students normally spent 40 minutes a week in PE class.

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April 30, 2011

LAUSD to remove chocolate, strawberry milk from schools, superintendent says

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles schools will remove high-sugar chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk from their lunch and breakfast menus after food activists campaigned for the change, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced this week.

Deasy revealed his intent, which will require approval by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, during an appearance with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Tuesday night.

The policy change is part of a carefully negotiated happy ending between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Oliver. The chef's confrontations with the school system became a main theme in the current season of the TV reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."

The timing of the flavored-milk ban, which had been under consideration for some time, gave Oliver a positive outcome and allowed the nation's second-largest school system to escape the villain's role. Deasy quickly alerted the school board to the deal before going on television.

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April 29, 2011

Out Front in the Fight on Fat

Betsy McKay:

How Portland, Maine Took a Stand Against Childhood Obesity. It Spent $3.7 Million to Rally Schools and Other Sites in the State. More Families Adopted 5-2-1-0 a Day: At Least 5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables , 2 Hours or Less of Screen Time, at Least 1 Hour of Exercise, and 0 Sugary Drinks. After All That, the Childhood Overweight-and-Obesity Rate for Southern Maine Dipped 1.5 Percentage Points to 31.3%.

At first, it seems obvious: Recess and fruit keep kids trimmer and healthier than videogames and cookies. But there isn't much that's obvious about moving the needle on childhood obesity rates in the U.S.

Nine year-old Ayub Mohamud was gaining weight rapidly when he went to see his doctor at a pediatric clinic here in September. At home, Ayub and his four siblings snacked regularly on candy, chips and soda; a younger brother also was overweight. Ayub ate two breakfasts, one at home and one at school, and got little exercise during the long Maine winters. He had a dark skin coloring on the back of his neck called "acanthosis nigricans," which can be a sign of being prediabetic.

By the end of January, after implementing some of Portland's 5-2-1-0 principles, Ayub had lost three pounds. His mother stopped buying a lot of candy, soda, and chips, and Ayub started eating carrots and broccoli. He and his 7-year-old brother were competing to do push-ups and sit-ups or try new foods. "I like it," Ayub says of his healthier new life.

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April 22, 2011

The Unwise War Against Chocolate Milk

Jen Singer:

One by one, the children trooped to our table and put their apples in front of my son. By the fourth apple, I asked Christopher--my date for "Lunch with Your Second Grader" at the local elementary school in Kinnelon, N.J.--what was going on.

"Oh, they don't like the apples that come with lunch, so they give them to me," he reported, shrugging. "I can't eat them all."

I'm the mother of two boys, now middle-schoolers, one a good eater and one who would live on pizza and root beer if I let him. Christopher eats apples, and Nicholas leaves his on the lunch tray. He's the one who needs his chocolate milk. Yes, chocolate.

And so it was disturbing to hear about the recent chocolate milk ban in the Fairfax County, Va., school system and elsewhere around the country. Ditching chocolate milk to cut down on our children's sugar intake might be the right sentiment, but it's the wrong solution.

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April 15, 2011

Food for thought on MPS workers

Terry Falk:

Two retired sanitation workers from Memphis stood proudly before the assembly gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee the Friday before the April 5 election. The Rev. Jesse Jackson made sure the message was clear. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for these workers when they went on strike in Memphis in 1968. Now those assembled were to march in King's honor and vote for candidates who supported a basic civil right: collective bargaining.

Opponents of labor unions have cleverly made this budget battle a choice between workers and taxpayers, workers and children, workers and just about everything else. But these are false choices, and nowhere is this better illustrated than the attack on the Milwaukee Public Schools food service workers.

A high percentage of food service workers are black and Latino at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Like the sanitation workers in Memphis, school food service workers see themselves fighting for their civil rights. The false choice is that money saved from the cuts in pay and benefits could be used to help fund kindergarten or lower class sizes.

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April 13, 2011

Chicago school bans some lunches brought from home

Monica Eng and Joel Hood:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

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April 12, 2011

Why U.S. School Kids Are Flunking Lunch

Jamie Oliver:

I spent the first two months of 2011 living in Los Angeles, filming the second season of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" for ABC. After last year's experience of trying to change food culture in the beautiful town of Huntington, West Virginia, I expected the challenges in L.A. to be very different. Shockingly, they were all too familiar.

L.A. is home to the nation's second biggest school district, which feeds 650,000 children every day. Half of these kids are eligible for free school meals. Within a few miles of the Hollywood sign there are entire communities with no access to fresh food. People travel for well over an hour to buy fruits and vegetables, and in one of the communities where I worked, children had an 80% obesity rate.

I had planned to work in the L.A. schools to try to figure out how school food could be better--and, ideally, cooked from scratch. Thousands of outraged parents, not to mention teachers and principals, wanted me in their schools. But I couldn't even get in the door: the Los Angeles Unified School District banned me from filming any of their food service operations, claiming that they didn't need me because they were already leading the charge. [You can read the LAUSD's response here.]

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April 10, 2011

Poisoned milk kills 3 children, dozens ill

Zhuang Pinghui:

Three children in Pingliang, Gansu, have died and 36 others have fallen ill from nitrite poisoning after drinking milk bought direct from farmers.

Pingliang's No2 People's Hospital recorded the first food-poisoning death around 9am on Thursday and another hospital recorded two similar deaths shortly afterwards.

"The three dead children were all under three years old. The rest of the patients were mostly children under 14 years old," a Pingliang government spokesman said.

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April 3, 2011

Time for a change: Susan Schmidt is a newcomer who is well-informed about what makes for successful schools. She appears ready to make the tough decisions needed to get the Milwaukee School district on track.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee School Board needs fresh ideas, which is why we favor newcomer Susan Schmidt over Terry Falk for the at-large seat on Tuesday's ballot.

Schmidt, 49, a single parent of two, is well-informed about what makes for successful schools, having visited and worked with a number of Milwaukee Public Schools and charter and choice schools.

Through her work with the nonprofit Scooter Foundation, established after her brother was shot and killed in Milwaukee in 2005, Schmidt opposes expanding choice beyond poor students. She believes the district needs to be more fiscally responsible. She said the board has a history of putting the needs of adults ahead of students.

The board's reluctance to allow Superintendent Gregory Thornton to explore the idea of outsourcing food service to save the district money is a prime example of the board's lack of leadership.

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March 29, 2011

Bill bans trans fats in schools

Associated Press:

A bill that would ban trans fats in Nevada public schools got support from health advocates and some mild opposition from administrators who don't want to be food police.

A Senate committee on Friday heard Senate Bill 230, which bans trans fats from vending machines, student stores, and school activities. The current bill version exempts school lunches, but pending rules through the national school lunch program would ban trans fats there, too.

Trans fats raise levels of harmful cholesterol and decrease levels of healthy cholesterol. They are common in processed snack foods, fried foods and baked goods.

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March 28, 2011

Misplaced Priorities At a Session on Chicago Schools

James Warren:

Terry Mazany, interim chief of Chicago Public Schools, was like a baseball manager beckoning a star relief pitcher an inning early to hold a lead. Rather than Mariano Rivera, he waved in Kate Maehr to last week's Board of Education meeting.

He had opened an ultimately melancholy session dominated by budget woes by suddenly and without explanation defending the Breakfast in the Classroom program, quietly pushed through in January.

The defense was due partly to an earlier mention in this column that generated lots of "Huh, are they serious?" responses among parents and others, according to board officials. The program mandates that the first instructional class open with pupils having breakfast at their desks, even at schools already offering pre-class breakfast.

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March 1, 2011

Changes Schools Should Make to Better Serve Students: A Student's View

Adora Svitak

My mom once asked me about the first steps I would hypothetically take to make a "better school." I don't claim to be an education expert, but I do have personal opinions about the ideal school -- one I'd like to go to. Among many other things, I said that I would change school starting times, improve cafeteria lunches, and bring back recess. These would be good first steps because they help a lot of students a little bit. And they can have wide-reaching impacts.

Starting Times
Studies have repeatedly shown that everyone, especially children with developing brains, need a good amount of high-quality sleep. It's difficult to get when you have to worry about waking up at 7 in the morning to go to school. Not everyone is a morning lark, and by starting school so early, not only students but also educators have to stave off yawns throughout the day.

I was at a conference where a well-respected sleep researcher, Dr. James Maas, revealed that adolescent sleep cycles tend to begin at 3 a.m. and end at 11 a.m. Yet we're starting school at 7 or 7:30 a.m. While I wouldn't quite change school start times to 11 a.m. (since we have to consider parents who have to go to work), I think it would be reasonable to move them to 8:45 AM or after. Then hypothetically a teenager could go to bed at 12 a.m. (as many often do), wake up at 8, shower and eat breakfast, and go to school with eight rather than five or six hours of sleep.

Another step: improve cafeteria lunches. Put a cap on the amount of sodium, fat, and calorie content allowed in each lunch. Mandate nonfat or 1 to 2 percent milk (and in smaller containers -- who really drinks that much milk?) instead of whole milk. Get rid of chocolate milk, soft drinks, and vending machines with unhealthy items. Require a certain percentage of food served be organic and/or local, and have smaller portions to help minimize cost (we all know how much food gets dumped out). Have the school's cooking classes (or maybe the entire student body) help make lunch on certain days.

A bigger step: I think it would be a good idea to have randomly assigned seating during lunch. This might be controversial among students, but the social division that occurs when students simply pick out where they want to sit can be hurtful and exclusive to students new to the school or children with difficulty making friends. Also, it seems that teachers rarely eat lunch and converse with the students. I've learned a lot from being able to have conversations with adults. So, teachers would be required to eat lunch with the students -- at least on certain days -- (and really, if they really can't stand students to the extent that they can't eat with them, should they be teaching?)

While making nutritious school lunches would be an excellent way to start combating childhood obesity, bringing back recess, at all grade levels, could do even more (as well as markedly increasing cognitive ability). In middle and high school you might have a somewhat more organized approach (depending on students, because it isn't hard to envision students simply standing around and talking to each other instead of exercising.

Perhaps instead of a dreaded required class one semester of junior high, physical education could become a fun, daily 15 to 20 minute class -- where healthy behaviors, like calisthenics, frequent exercise, jogging, and hiking, would be modeled every day. Students could get involved actively in the "curriculum," by submitting their favorite exercise activities and voting on which new things to try.

"Big" Changes
I want to talk about "big" changes I would make in education (if I were in a position of incredible power!) -- multiple, age-independent, subject-based grade levels; online learning; and authority hierarchy in school.

Age-Independent Grades

I took two electives recently at Redmond Junior High. Everyone asked what grade I was in. It would go something like this:
"Adora, what grade are you in?"
"Ninth grade."
They look incredulously at my apparently seventh-grade style of dress (i.e., sweaters and shirts vs. tank tops and jackets) and say, "You're in ninth grade?"
"Yeah," I nod quickly, and explain, "I skipped a grade."

[Actually, it's feasible that I skipped two grades, since 12-year-olds are often put in seventh grade (depending on when your birthday is) but usually I say I just skipped one, since I'm now thirteen.]

One's grade in school decides what you'll learn and the level at which you'll learn it. It decides when you'll graduate from high school and even the friends you'll make (most of your friends are probably in your grade or close to it). My question is why your age, not your aptitude, should determine your grade -- and why grade covers all subjects, when people have varying degrees of ability and interest across subjects. (Yes, there's a reason kids are always asked, "What's your favorite subject?")

I am at a loss as to the benefits of putting a group of people of approximately the same age -- but of varying aptitudes -- into one room where they will all learn the same thing. The quicker students will sit bored while the teacher re-explains a concept they already know from their voracious reading, while the slower students will be confused and left out by the rapid pace at which everyone else seems to be progressing.

My parents homeschooled my sister and me for many years. Why? Because the local school insisted that I, being three, should go to preschool, and my sister, being five, should go to kindergarten. The problem? You learn your alphabet in preschool, and I was already reading chapter books. At the same time, however, I was not so far along with math and science. In other words, I was not "advanced" in everything. Yet many gifted and talented programs try to put students into all-around advanced classes.

Wouldn't it make more sense to be able to take some kind of test (oral, written, multiple choice, or informal discussion with a counselor) to determine what level you would be? Maybe then I could have taken a test which would have allowed me to learn at second grade reading and history level, and kindergarten or first-grade math and science.

To me, this approach makes far more sense than sorting students into grades based on when your birthday is. Would you ever tell a son or daughter, little brother or sister, "You weren't born before September 1st, so I'm not going to help you learn your alphabet"? Yet that is what our school system does every year.

Placement tests to sort students into levels would put students with a larger knowledge base into higher grades, but a large knowledge base doesn't necessarily mean a love of learning. I'd propose that honors/gifted status would then be determined by a student's desire to learn and exhibition of independent learning traits (i.e., reading a lot outside of school, tracking current events, etc.). For instance, if you're a 10-year-old who's been advanced to seventh-grade level mathematics, you'd be placed in the honors math class. The material covered would be the same as the seventh-grade level math (because honors classes would no longer have to serve only as a means of providing harder material -- you'd be placed in a higher grade if you had that large knowledge base), but there would be more discussion, extracurricular activity, etc.

I personally think that there is no compelling benefit to having an age-based grade system. It could be argued that some poor little advanced 3-year-old, taking language arts classes with 8-year-olds, will feel different and lonely--but 10 years ago, you would have found 3-year-old Adora Svitak taking classes at Renton's H.O.M.E. Program (a public program offering classes for homeschooled children)... with 6, 7, and 8-year-olds, among others -- and feeling fine. Diversity should be more than a buzz phrase. If students are prepared to make friends with and learn from those younger (or older) than them, we have made true progress in embracing diversity.

Authority Hierarchy in School

I definitely think that students need to get involved in decision-making on a deeper level, beyond simply being on an associated student government or student council. At the TEDx conference I organized last year, TEDxRedmond, several speakers (all of whom were under 18), spoke movingly on their opinions about education and certain ways their schools had supported and/or failed them.

In many countries, schools are preparing students to participate in a democratic environment; yet schools themselves tend to be extremely autocratic, with all high-level decisions being made by adults. Let students have a voice -- use online technology to have students give constructive feedback to their teachers and school administrators. Implement student suggestions. Put students on school district boards. Allow students to help form curriculum and get their ideas on which assignments work best for them. Hold regular meetings where students are invited to speak to their school officials.

Online Learning
Every school district should have an online learning framework, so that "blended learning" (partially online, partially in-person) can be an option for students. Students could read more of the fact-based lesson material online, so that when they came to class in-person, time could be used on higher-order thinking skills like experiments, projects, and the like. A lot of excellent learning takes place when students are face-to-face with each other and a teacher, yet there are situations where students may not always be able to make it to class. Should students not be able to continue doing any of their work simply because of a school flu epidemic, school staff on strike, snow days, or absences?

Other obvious benefits of incorporating online learning:

  • Teachers could post assignments, students could submit responses, and teachers could grade them, all online, without worrying about endless stacks of paper.

  • Students could keep up with what was going on in class and see instant grade updates.

  • Teachers could post multiple-choice tests, which can be easily computer-graded, online, and save themselves from the tedious work of checking multiple choice answers.

  • Students could review materials from past lessons before a test.

  • Teachers could easily post links and resources online for students to view.

  • Parents could keep updated on what was happening in class.

  • By using tools like Elluminate, Skype, GoToMeeting, chat, Google Voice, etc., teachers could easily stay in touch with students (particularly when students had questions).

As a student at an online public high school, I see my teachers using many of these tools. Many of my teachers have Google Voice as well as embeddable chat tools, so we can quickly get in contact.

Of course, all these changes, big and small, will cost money. Where will that come from? By shifting more content online, we could cut some of the spending that would go toward giant reams of paper and industrial-size printers and copiers. Maybe we could levy a tax on soft drink and junk food purchases, to pay for healthier school lunches. (We could call it "Buy a Twinkie for Yourself, Give a Whole Wheat Sandwich to a Student!")

Finally, students should take international studies classes, since it's often shocking how little Americans know about other countries. Let's do a pop quiz. I bet most Canadians can name our president. Can you name the prime minister of Canada? It's rare to find someone who hasn't heard of "California" or "New York" before. Can you name a single state of India? It's easy enough for most people to find the U.S. on a map. Can you find New Zealand, recently affected by a devastating earthquake? Or Afghanistan, where we're currently at war?

I know this post is quite long, and because of the extreme municipal-level management of schools, many of these changes are seemingly impossible. In the coming days and years, I'm hoping we can work together to create a better school -- not just for today's kids, but for tomorrow's.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 22, 2011

You can lead kids to broccoli, but you can't make them eat

Monica Eng:

Anyone who has ever tried to sneak healthy food into kids' lunches knows what Chicago Public Schools is going through.

Sometimes kids openly embrace the new food. Sometimes they eat it without realizing the difference. And sometimes they refuse it altogether.

CPS has met with all three reactions this school year, when it stopped serving daily nachos, Pop-Tarts and doughnuts and introduced healthier options at breakfast and lunch. But in a sign of how challenging this transition can be for schools, district figures show that lunch sales for September through December dropped by about 5 percentage points since the previous year, or more than 20,000 lunches a day.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 8, 2011

Childhood: Obesity and School Lunches

Roni Caryn Rabin:

A study of more than 1,000 sixth graders in several schools in southeastern Michigan found that those who regularly had the school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.

Spending two or more hours a day watching television or playing video games also increased the risk of obesity, but by only 19 percent.

Of the 142 obese children in the study for whom dietary information was known, almost half were school-lunch regulars, compared with only one-third of the 787 who were not obese.

"Most school lunches rely heavily on high-energy, low-nutrient-value food, because it's cheaper," said Dr. Kim A. Eagle, director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, and senior author of the paper, published in the December issue of American Heart Journal. In some schools where the study was done, lunch programs offered specials like "Tater Tot Day," he said.

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February 6, 2011

Jamie Oliver Still at Odds With Los Angeles Schools

Anne Louise Bannon:

A little over two weeks after celebrity cook Jamie Oliver started shooting the second season of his Food Revolution reality TV show at the Westwood-based Jamie's Kitchen, the Los Angeles Unified School District remains at odds with the production company about letting the show shoot in district schools.

However, Robert Alaniz, spokesperson for the district said that officials have been meeting with Oliver's team.

"He'd be more than welcome, but sans cameras," Alaniz said, adding that district officials simply believe that the school district is no place for a reality television show.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:43 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 19, 2011

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, of 'Food Revolution' fame, speaks to California school nutritionists

Mary MacVean:

Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef who is beating the drums for a school lunch revolution, received a warm reception this weekend from hundreds of the people who make and serve food to children every day. It's the Los Angeles Unified School District that isn't so welcoming.

"I'm going to be honest. I'm actually petrified," Oliver said as he started his keynote address Saturday at the annual meeting of the California School Nutrition Assn. at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Perhaps he feared the "lunch ladies" might not be happy to hear from the man who clashed with their colleagues in Huntington, W.Va., last year on "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." But he was applauded several times.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:57 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 18, 2011

Vendors of healthful food target schools

Nick Leiber:

Jeff Lowell, an assistant principal at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash., normally dismisses the e-mails he gets from businesses trying to sell to his 1,500 students.

He was intrigued, however, by the pitch he received in September from Fresh Healthy Vending, a San Diego franchise operation that offers vending machines stocked with snacks and drinks it touts as alternatives to junk food.

"Everybody (understands) what eating right does for you and how much it ends up affecting your ability to think," Lowell says. "We decided we wanted to try it."

Lowell signed a one-year contract allowing Fresh Healthy to park its machines near Interlake's gym in exchange for 15 percent of profits. In late November, Fresh Healthy installed three machines, featuring goodies such as Kashi granola bars and Stonyfield Farm fruit smoothies, next to older machines that sell Powerade and Dasani water. The top seller in the new machines so far: Pirate's Booty cheese puffs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 7, 2011

The Mayor Wants You to Lose Some Weight

Laura Landro

Frustrated with the high cost of health care, a number of communities around the country are taking new steps to push citizens to improve their health.

Some places have set 10-year goals to reach certain marks of good health. In San Francisco, for example, 79% of small children currently are fully immunized by the time they turn 2 years old; the county aims to increase that to 90% by 2020. Other places, like Kern County, Calif., which has one of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease in the state, are setting up farmers' markets and constructing new trails and sidewalks to foster healthier lifestyles.

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January 2, 2011

Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation

Paul French and Matthew Crabbe:

An analysis of the growing problem of obesity in China and its relationship to the nation's changing diet, lifestyle trends and healthcare system.

'When Deng Xiaoping said 'To get rich is glorious', he probably didn't realize that getting wealthy would make many Chinese fat... In an informative and entertaining style, French and Crabbe reveal the dark side of China's growing middle-class: a fast increase in obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes. A great read on an important topic.' Andy Rothman, China economist, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, Shanghai

'In this remarkably well researched and thought-provoking book, French and Crabbe expose a darker side of globalisation in China... Western multinationalists have submerged the Chinese consumer in a sea of chocolate and ice cream. The consequences for public health are incalculable.' --Tim Clissold, China investment specialist and author of 'Mr China'

'While some people around the world agonize about the rapid spread of China's global influence, others within China are more worried about the spread of the country's waistlines - or at least they should be, according to this fascinating and exhaustively researched study by Paul French and Matthew Crabbe. By turns colourful, witty and alarming, this book provides fascinating insights into China's fast-changing society.' --Duncan Hewitt, Shanghai correspondent for 'Newsweek' and author of 'Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China'

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December 29, 2010

Obese German children 'should face' classroom weigh-ins

Alan Hall:

Germany's main school teaching body has called for classroom weigh-ins and the enforced removal of ultra-overweight pupils to combat rising obesity in society.

Josef Kraus, the DL teaching federation president, said: "When parents don't make sure their children eat healthily and get enough exercise, then it can be the beginning of child abuse in extreme cases." He said school doctors should take a more active role and conduct regular consultations and weight measurements of students. The should also report problem cases to authorities.

"When parental notices about overweight children are thrown to the wind, then youth services must be contacted and as a last resort there should be cuts to their parental benefits or welfare," Mr Kraus said.

His remarks follow the release of official figures which showed that 51 per cent of Germans are considered overweight. Sixty per cent of men and 43 per cent of women have a Body Mass Index (BMI) - a measure calculated by body weight and height - of more than 25, up from 56 per cent and 40 per cent respectively in 1999.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:03 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 21, 2010

Happy Meals lawsuit is beyond stupid

Roland Martin:

As a strong proponent of parental responsibility, it both amuses and angers me to see some parents lining up behind an initiative to sue McDonald's over the inclusion of toys in their Happy Meals.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is leading the charge in this case by pushing the state of California to ban the toys. The group suggests that the toys in Happy Meals are inducing children to eat the burger and fries, thus contributing to the obesity epidemic in America.

As I asserted in a past column that supported first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, I fully back efforts to end obesity among our children. But at what point do some folks use common sense?

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December 18, 2010

Save the Children Breaks With Soda Tax Effort

William Neuman:

Over the last year, Save the Children emerged as a leader in the push to tax sweetened soft drinks as a way to combat childhood obesity. The nonprofit group supported soda tax campaigns in Mississippi, New Mexico, Washington State, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.

At the same time, executives at Save the Children were seeking a major grant from Coca-Cola to help finance the health and education programs that the charity conducts here and abroad, including its work on childhood obesity.

The talks with Coke are still going on. But the soda tax work has been stopped. In October, Save the Children surprised activists around the country with an e-mail message announcing that it would no longer support efforts to tax soft drinks.

In interviews this month, Carolyn Miles, chief operating officer of Save the Children, said there was no connection between the group's about-face on soda taxes and the discussions with Coke. A $5 million grant from PepsiCo also had no influence on the decision, she said. Both companies fiercely oppose soda taxes.

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December 14, 2010

McDonald's chief attacks children's meal 'food police'

Greg Farrell and Hal Weitzman

The chief executive of McDonald's has described critics of the company who have tried to curtail the sale of Happy Meals aimed at children as "food police" and accused them of undermining parents in making decisions for their families.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Jim Skinner responded to last month's vote by the San Francisco board of supervisors to forbid restaurants from offering toys with meals unless the food complied with limits on calories, sodium, sugar and fat.

"We'll continue to sell Happy Meals," said Mr Skinner, in the face of a ban that does not become effective until December 2011. The new rule "really takes personal choice away from families who are more than capable of making their own decisions".

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December 10, 2010

My healthy school lunch idea: turkey brats and low-fat cheese curds

Chris Rickert

Mom's admonishment still rings true today, with only minor adjustment: "Starving children in North Korea would be happy to have that beef and bean burrito."

Or, as it's known in the Madison School District, the least popular lunch among students this past October and a poster child for the dilemma faced by lunch ladies across this land of plenty: How to get children to eat things that are good for their bodies, not just pleasing to their tongues.

The irony in trying to solve this problem -- also known as a "blessing" in food-deprived parts of the world -- is so old as to be left unmentioned. I mention it here only as a reminder that in our free-flowing-capital-and-consumer-products global economy, we still can't manage to keep kids from starving to death.

In any case, my first reaction to the healthy choices conundrum was simple: Let them go hungry.

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December 8, 2010

School officials weigh benefits with costs of healthy meal options

Gena Kittner & Matthew DeFour:

Healthier lunches are coming with a heftier price tag as school districts struggle to get students to buy meals rich in green produce and whole grains yet short on sugar, fat and salt.

The dilemma has added urgency as Madison and Dane County parents become increasingly vocal in urging better food in the lunch line. Districts are getting creative, making pizzas with wheat crusts and low-fat cheese, for example. But that only goes so far, officials said.

"Try as we might, there are some kids who are not going to eat raw broccoli," said Robyn Wood, food services director for the Oregon School District, which ran a $50,000 deficit last school year in its $1.5 million lunch program. "They're not going to buy an apple over a cookie. We serve apples at the high school and kids leave campus and buy cookies."

The Madison School District has experienced a 35 percent reduction in revenue for its a la carte menu in the past five years after healthier options were introduced as part of a new wellness policy, said Food Services Director Frank Kelly.

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December 6, 2010

Hold the brownies! Bill could limit bake sales

Mary Clare Jalonick

A child nutrition bill on its way to President Barack Obama -- and championed by the first lady -- gives the government power to limit school bake sales and other fundraisers that health advocates say sometimes replace wholesome meals in the lunchroom.

Republicans, notably Sarah Palin, and public school organizations decry the bill as an unnecessary intrusion on a common practice often used to raise money.

"This could be a real train wreck for school districts," Lucy Gettman of the National School Boards Association said Friday, a day after the House cleared the bill. "The federal government should not be in the business of regulating this kind of activity at the local level."

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December 2, 2010

Is Federal Government Meddling Into Schools With Child Nutrition Bill?

Huma Khan

The House of Representatives today delayed a vote on the $4.5 billion child nutrition bill that would ban greasy food and sugary soft drinks from schools. The legislation has triggered criticism for its hefty price tag and new nutritional requirements that some say shouldn't come from the federal government.

The bill is expected to be brought up later this week.

The legislation has the support of the White House and first lady Michelle Obama, who has made childhood obesity a central focus.

The Senate bill, which passed with unanimous bipartisan consent in August, would expand eligibility for school lunch programs, establish nutrition standards for all school meals, and encourage schools to use locally produced food. It would also raise the reimbursement rate to six cents per meal, marking the first time in over 30 years that Congress has increased funding for school lunch programs.

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November 29, 2010

Pasco County school menus

St. Petersburg Times

Elementary breakfasts

All elementary breakfasts include a choice of one main fare item, one fruit or 100 percent fruit juice and one milk choice plus an option for cereal with graham crackers.

Monday: Whole wheat cinnamon bun or yogurt with graham crackers.

Tuesday: Breakfast burrito or Zac Omega bar.

Wednesday: Breakfast pizza or muffin loaf with cheese.

Pasco County Schools.

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November 3, 2010

Sweet drinks widely available in schools: study

Julie Steenhuysen

Despite efforts to limit their availability, public elementary school students in the United States have more outlets to buy unhealthy beverages at school, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

Over a three-year period ending in 2009, more students could buy sweetened beverages like sodas, higher-fat milk and sports beverages from vending machines and school stores, they said. Such drinks are a major source of calories, and removing them from schools could help curb the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Elementary school students are still surrounded by a variety of unhealthy beverages while at school," said Lindsey Turner of the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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November 1, 2010

Thompson gets taste of Milwaukee Public Schools' food fight

Alan Borsuk

This certainly is an education for me," Gregory Thornton, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, told School Board members as he watched them chew up the first controversial matter that has come before the board since Thornton took office July 1.

The issue involved was not the biggest one MPS will face. There are lots more difficult decisions coming up as the economic problems of the school system accelerate.

But the way the board majority came down on this issue definitely sent messages.

For some, such as union members, the main message was a reassuring one; for others, such as some MPS administrators and some business and civic leaders, the message was an alarming one.

The issue, in a nutshell: Thornton, who has emphasized the need to make MPS a well-run business, thought the system's leaders should find out what all the options are for the future of a food service operation that provides about 100,000 meals a day.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How committed to healthy choices is the Madison school district really?

At last month's Food for Thought Festival in Madison, Martha Pings attended a panel discussion titled "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children." Among the panelists was Frank Kelly, director of food services for the Madison school district, who spoke of his desire to provide kids with nutritious food.

Two weeks later, Pings' daughter came home from O'Keeffe Middle School on Madison's east side with news that the cafeteria had a new a la carte option: a slushie machine.

The machine drew a backlash from Pings and other O'Keeffe parents, and last week was removed from the school at the request of the principal, Kay Enright (see article, 10/21/10). "I wish they would have asked me to begin with," says Enright, who agrees the slushies were not "a healthy addition to our menu of choices."

But there are larger issues here, as Pings, a member of Madison Families for Better Nutrition, related in a letter to school officials posted on the group's website.

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October 15, 2010

Long Beach schoolchildren are a model for healthy eating

Mary MacVean

The mayor, a congresswoman, a county supervisor and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were on hand Tuesday for the unveiling of a new salad bar at Fremont Elementary School and to see the organic garden.

At least for one day, the students at Fremont Elementary School in Long Beach could be heard chanting, "Salad! Salad! Salad!" before lunch Tuesday.

Maybe it helped that they had an audience, including their principal, the Long Beach mayor, a congresswoman, a county supervisor and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

And maybe it helps that teachers and food services staff, parents and a volunteer chef had all worked to put the salad bar in place and will help keep it going.

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September 12, 2010

Yikes! Kids to judge healthy food options

Susan Troller

The REAP Food Group will stage what sounds like a pretty daunting culinary challenge that should be fun to watch at its Food for Thought Festival at the end of September. On Saturday, Sept. 24, three local chefs will join three local school principals as kitchen collaborators, working together to plan and prepare a healthy, nutritious, child-friendly meal that will be judged by the harshest critics around: school age kids themselves.

And that's not all. The intrepid cooks must do it all on a budget, under a deadline and in front of an audience. School cooks would say it's almost as hard as what they face daily in the lunchroom.

"I know they will be hard on us," chef Steve Eriksen says of the young judges. Eriksen is one of the contestants and associate team leader for the kitchen at Madison's Whole Foods grocery store. "What you get out of children's mouths is brutal honesty."

But Eriksen says he has a secret weapon as he prepares for the competition: his 3-year-old daughter, Ella, who is a picky eater. "If we can make something that I think Ella will eat, any kid will like it," he says with a grin.

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August 27, 2010

Ann Cooper's latest tool in the Food Revolution


Food Revolution hero Ann Cooper recently re-launched her new and improved website for The Lunch Box -- a collection of scalable recipes, resources and general information to turn any school lunch system into a healthy, balanced diet for kids. One of the most exciting initiatives of this revamp is the Great American Salad Project (GASP) which, in partnership with Whole Foods, will create salad bars in over 300 schools across America. The new salad bars will give young students daily access to the fresh fruits and vegetables they need, and will be funded by donations from Whole Foods shoppers and visitors to the website. To donate, click here.

Schools can begin grant applications on September 1. If you'd like to see a fresh salad bar in your cafeteria, click here to review the process and get your app ready.

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August 18, 2010

Growing Power's National-International Urban & Small Farm Conference

via a kind reader's email:

Come to Milwaukee and help grow the good food revolution. Hosted by Growing Power--a national organization headed by the sustainable urban farmer and MacArthur Fellow Will Allen--this international conference will teach the participant how to plan, develop and grow small farms in urban and rural areas. Learn how you can grow food year-round, no matter what the climate, and how you can build markets for small farms. See how you can play a part in creating a new food system that fosters better health and more closely-knit communities.

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August 11, 2010

The Decline in Student Study Time

Philip Babcok & Mindy:

In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college in the United States studied about twenty-four hours per week, while his modern counterpart puts in only fourteen hours per week. Students now study less than half as much as universities claim to require. This dramatic decline in study time occurred for students from all demographic subgroups, for students who worked and those who did not, within every major, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure, and level of selectivity. Most of the decline predates the innovations in technology that are most relevant to education and thus was not driven by such changes. The most plausible explanation for these findings, we conclude, is that standards have fallen at postsecondary institutions in the United States.

Key points in this Outlook:

  • Study time for full-time students at four-year colleges in the United States fell from twenty-four hours per week in 1961 to fourteen hours per week in 2003, and the decline is not explained by changes over time in student work status, parental education, major choice, or the type of institution students attended.
  • Evidence that declines in study time result from improvements in education technology is slim. A more plausible explanation is that achievement standards have fallen.
  • Longitudinal data indicate that students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

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August 9, 2010

National Cholesterol Education Program might update treatment recommendations

Melissa Healy:

In the next year or so, the market for statins may get a further boost.

The National Cholesterol Education Program, the group that drafted the 2001 and 2004 guidelines on statin use, is expected to update its treatment recommendations. In doing so, the group will decide whether to suggest the broad use of statins for healthy patients with high readings of a marker for inflammation called C-reactive protein.

If the group does urge statins for these healthy individuals, at least 6.5 million new patients could sign up for long-term statin use.

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Senate Passes Child Nutrition Act

Andrew Martin:

The Senate on Thursday approved a long-awaited child nutrition act that intends to feed more hungry kids and make school food more nutritious, and it provides for $4.5 billion over the next decade to make that happen.

Called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, it passed the Senate unanimously and now moves on to the House, where passage is also expected. National child nutrition programs are set to expire Sept. 30.

The legislation will expand the number of low-income children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, largely by streamlining the paperwork required to receive the meals. And it will expand a program to provide after-school meals to at-risk children.

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July 30, 2010

Are Lunch Ladies Part of Recipe for Good Schools?

Linda Lutton:

In Chicago, dozens of lunch ladies are leaving the schools they've worked at--sometimes for years. That's because those schools are being "turned around"--a strategy that involves removing the entire staff at failing schools to "reset" the culture there. It's a strategy Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now pushing nationwide. But a question is: Is it necessary to remove lunch ladies, janitors, and security guards to create better schools?

In mid-June, the lunch ladies at Deneen Elementary School on the city's south side were serving up one of their last meals.

LUNCH LADY: How are you? What do you want? Carrots or salad?

Fewer than half of kids meet standards here on state tests, so Deneen is being forced to start over. As a "turnaround," every adult has to leave, from the principal to the teachers to the seven lunch ladies. Veronica Fluth was Deneen's cook. After insisting I put on a hair net, she gave me a tour of her spotless kitchen.

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July 17, 2010

House bill would make school lunches healthier

Mary Clare Jalonick:

House Democrats are moving forward on first lady Michelle Obama's vision for healthier school lunches, propelling legislation that calls for tougher standards governing food in school and more meals for hungry children.

A bill approved by the House Education and Labor Committee Thursday would allow the Agriculture Department to create new standards for all food in schools, including vending machine items. The legislation would spend about $8 billion more over 10 years on nutrition programs.

"This important legislation will combat hunger and provide millions of schoolchildren with access to healthier meals, a critical step in the battle against childhood obesity," Mrs. Obama said in a statement after committee passage.

Some Republicans on the committee expressed concern about how the bill would be paid for, but three of them ended up voting for it. The legislation was approved on a 32-13 vote.

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July 5, 2010

Don't burn Jamie Oliver over school dinners

Rose Prince:

It is agreed, then, that bad eating habits are a government problem. Up to now, you would have been forgiven for thinking that all social ills are to be cured by television presenters. Then this week, the Health Secretary took Jamie Oliver and his well-intentioned - if sadly ineffective - efforts to reform school dinners to task. Take-up of meals is down, argued Andrew Lansley, suggesting that Jamie's formula for school dinner reform is not working. I would suggest Andrew Lansley aims his guns in a different direction.

Oliver has often talked of his frustration and, indeed, has even burst into tears at the refusal of sinners to convert to his way of eating, or stay faithful afterwards. But their diets are not his fault, or his responsibility. He valiantly highlighted an important issue. Millions watched; the previous government made a lot of the right noises, but they never ran with Oliver's campaign.

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July 3, 2010

Did Jamie Oliver's School Lunch Program Make Kids Eat Junk Food?

Megan Friedman:

What happens when you force kids to eat healthy food at school? They find a way to down junk food anyway. That's what the U.K.'s health minister is accusing celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of causing with his attempt to rid cafeterias of unhealthy lunches. (via Wellness)

Oliver is best known in the U.S. for his show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, in which he attempted to get a West Virginia town to eat more healthfully. He had previously started a program in the U.K. called School Dinners, with a similar goal. Unfortunately, the result may not have worked out as planned. Wellness sums it up:

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June 25, 2010

Study: N.Y. Soda Tax Would Curb Obesity, Diabetes

R.M. Schneiderman:

New Yorkers seem to oppose Gov. Paterson's proposed penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. But over the next decade, the tax could curb soda consumption and prevent tens of thousands of cases of adult obesity and Type 2 diabetes, a change that would save state residents an estimated $2.1 billion in related medical expenditures, according to a new study commissioned by the New York City Health Department.

The study, conducted by Dr. Claire Wang, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, analyzed various surveys on sugary drink consumption, related health risks and the effects of price on consumer choices. The findings: a soda tax would reduce consumption of sugary beverages by 15% to 20%. It would also prevent an estimated 37,000 or more cases of Type 2 diabetes and an estimated 145,000 or more cases of adult obesity over the next decade.

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June 17, 2010

District Graduation Rate Map Tool

Education Week, via a kind reader:

EdWeek Maps is the only place to find comparable, reliable, readily accessible data on graduation rates and other indicators for every school district and high school in the country.

The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center is proud to present this powerful online mapping tool to help the public, policymakers, and educational leaders combat the nation's graduation crisis. EdWeek Maps is the only place to find comparable, reliable data on graduation rates for every school district and high school in the country.
This Web-based application allows users to easily map out graduation rates by zooming in on any of the nation's individual school districts. Users can then access detailed information for that district or any of its high schools.

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June 2, 2010

Documentary on farming at Detroit school gets recognition as subject might move

David Runk:

A documentary from a pair of Dutch filmmakers about urban farming at a Detroit school for pregnant teens and young mothers is getting wider recognition as the school's program faces the prospect of being uprooted.

Mascha and Manfred Poppenk made "Grown in Detroit" first for Dutch public television and began screening it last year. It focuses on the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, which has its own working farm.

"This is really a film Americans should see," Mascha Poppenk said. "They need to see there are good things going on in Detroit."

The building that houses Catherine Ferguson could be closed in June and its program moved to another one about a mile away. It's part of a plan announced in March by district emergency financial manager Robert Bobb to close 44 schools.

Detroit Public Schools, which is fighting years of declining enrolment and a $219 million budget deficit, closed 29 schools before the start of classes last fall and shuttered 35 buildings about three years ago.

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May 31, 2010

California schools ban sugary sports drinks

Jill Blocker:

California middle-and high schoolers will have to find another way to quench their thirst during lunch, other than those brightly-colored, sugar-sweetened sports drinks.

On Thursday, the California Senate passed Senate Bill: 1255, which prohibits the sale of sugar-sweetened sports drinks in public middle and high schools as part of an effort to combat childhood obesity, according to the Ventura County Star.

"Studies have shown weight gain is connected to consuming sports drinks, and I applaud the California Senate for taking action to help prevent childhood obesity," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., said in a press release. Schwarzenegger sponsored the bill, which was authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles.

An original 32-ounce Gatorade has four servings per container, with 14 grams of sugar, meaning consumers are taking in 56 grams of sugar if they drink one regular-size bottle. It contains no fruit juice.

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May 15, 2010

Wisconsin Democrat Representative Ron Kind (D-3) Introduces Legislation Requiring Government Tracking of Children's Body Mass

Penny Starr:

A bill introduced this month in Congress would put the federal and state governments in the business of tracking how fat, or skinny, American children are.

States receiving federal grants provided for in the bill would be required to annually track the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. The grant-receiving states would be required to mandate that all health care providers in the state determine the Body Mass Index of all their patients in the 2-to-18 age bracket and then report that information to the state government. The state government, in turn, would be required to report the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for analysis.

The Healthy Choices Act--introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee--would establish and fund a wide range of programs and regulations aimed at reducing obesity rates by such means as putting nutritional labels on the front of food products, subsidizing businesses that provide fresh fruits and vegetables, and collecting BMI measurements of patients and counseling those that are overweight or obese.

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May 4, 2010


Caryolyn Lochhead:

Slow food stirs up battle in heartland.

Agricultural establishment fighting back at movement.

From Pennsylvania church ladies to Iowa dairymen, the locavore, small-is-good, organic food movement born in Northern California has penetrated America's heartland, where it is waging a pitchfork rebellion, much of it on the Internet, against the agricultural establishment.

After long dismissing the new food movement as a San Francisco annoyance, the establishment is fighting back.

"Alice should drown in her own waters," said High Plains Journal's Larry Dreiling of Berkeley food guru Alice Waters.

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April 15, 2010

Better food at a school near you

Susan Troller:

Local foodies are cheering the news that Wisconsin lawmakers this week passed legislation that will help bring local farm products to school lunchrooms.

The Assembly passed AB 746, which creates a statewide council to coordinate the process of selling Wisconsin-grown products to schools. The Senate concurred on the Farm-to-School initiative which is cheering news to Wisconsin farmers and advocates for more fresh foods on school menus.

Meanwhile, a newly released report from chef Beth Collins and Lunch Lessons about Madison's school meal program says the Madison school district's food service facilities, staff and organization pose no barriers to putting healthier, less processed food on kids' plates at school. But district budget woes and time constraints, plus the lack of a well-focused plan, still pose significant hurdles to upgrading what kids eat at school.

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April 9, 2010

A Food Revolution in School Lunches

Kari McLennan:

Has anyone been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? I have and I have to say that Jamie is truly inspiring. He's got so much passion and drive. I wish I had a pinky's worth of his. If you're not familiar with Jamie, he has a long career that I believe started with his simple cooking show The Naked Chef. Since then he's revolutionized the British school lunch program and is now on to America's unhealthiest city to continue the revolution.

So just what is so bad about school lunches? Well, this is certainly not a new topic for The Green Mama, but it's important because kids are the future and habits are created when we're young. This is the first generation that is not expected to live longer than their parents due mostly to obesity. One in three Illinois children is overweight or obese and according to the Community Food Security Commission, 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes. It's heartbreaking.

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March 28, 2010

New York parents turn up heat on 'bake sales' ban

Jonathan Birchall:

New York city's standard-setting efforts to improve the heatlh of its citizens have provoked resistance in the past from bar owners, fastfood restaurants and global food and drink companies.

But this week it was the turn of parents selling muffins, brownies and spinach empanadas on the steps of City Hall.

About 300 people turned out to oppose new city regulations that in effect ban school "bake sales" - an all-American fundraising staple where students and parents sell homebaked cakes and cookies to fund museum trips and equip their sports teams.

The sales, which can raise as much as $500 a time, have fallen foul of efforts by the Department of Education to improve the nutritional quality of foods available in schools as part of its battle against rising levels of childhood obesity.

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March 27, 2010

Lousy School Lunch Bill Closer to Passage

Jill Richardson:

Why do Democrats put their least loyal Senator in charge of one of their highest profile issues? Michelle Obama started her government-wide "Let's Move" program to improve children's health and nutrition, but Blanche Lincoln's the author of the Senate child nutrition bill that just passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee yesterday. And Blanche Lincoln is no Michelle Obama. She's not even as progressive as Barack Obama, who called for $10 billion in new money over 10 years for child nutrition, a number Lincoln reduced by more than half.

To put that in easier to understand terms, Obama's proposal would have given up to $.18 in addition funds to each child's school lunch. Lincoln's bill gives each lunch $.06. Compare that to the School Nutrition Association's request to raise the current $2.68 "reimbursement rate" (the amount the federal government reimburses schools for each free lunch served to a low income child) by $.35 just to keep the quality of the lunches the same and make up for schools' current budgetary shortfall. School lunch reformer Ann Cooper calls for an extra $1 per lunch to actually make lunches healthy. So any amount under $.35 is no reform at all, and Lincoln gave us $.06.

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March 26, 2010

Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

Hilary Parker:

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

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March 25, 2010

Happy Meal is ageless: no decay in a year on a shelf

Cory Doctorow:

Joann Bruso, author of Baby Bites - Transforming A Picky Eater Into A Healthy Eater Book, a book on getting kids to overcome picky eating habits, has been blogging the half-life of a McDonald's Happy Meal that she bought a year ago. In the intervening year, the box of delight, plastic toys and food-like substances has experienced virtually no decay.

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March 18, 2010

Pepsi Says No To Full Calorie Soda Sales in Schools, by 2012

Associated Press:

PepsiCo Inc. said Tuesday it will remove full-calorie sweetened drinks from schools in more than 200 countries by 2012, marking the first such move by a major soft-drink producer.

PepsiCo announced its plan the same day first lady Michelle Obama urged major companies to put less fat, salt and sugar in foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children. Pepsi, the world's second-biggest soft-drink maker, and Coca-Cola Co., the biggest, adopted guidelines to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools in 2006.

The World Heart Federation has been urging soft-drink makers for the past year to remove sugary beverages from schools. The group is looking to fight a rise in childhood obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other ailments.

PepsiCo's move is what the group had been seeking because it affects students through age 18, said Pekka Puska, president of the World Heart Federation, made up of heart associations around the world. In an interview from Finland, Dr. Puska said he hopes other companies feel pressured to take similar steps. "It may be not so well known in the U.S. how intensive the marketing of soft drinks is in so many countries,'' he said. Developing countries such as Mexico are particularly affected, he added.

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March 9, 2010

War on Soft Drinks Bubbles out of Schools

Michelle Miller:

When former President Bill Clinton enlisted the beverage industries in fighting childhood obesity, he did not expect so much progress in just four years.

"I have to admit I'm stunned by the results," Clinton said. "There has been an 88 percent reduction in the total beveraged calories shipped to schools."

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller report the industry is now selling healthier - instead of high calorie - drinks to students. Still not good enough, say public health officials.

A growing number of cities and states want to reduce adult consumption of sugary drinks by taxing them. New York has revived a proposal to impose a penny per ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Colorado has already levied such as tax. So has Illinois. California is considering it.

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February 16, 2010

Nutrition: Vermont's healthy start

Lisa Rathke:

The third- and fourth-graders at Sharon Elementary know where the veggies in their soup come from because they've visited the farms. They know the nutritional value of the carrots, onions and cabbage because they've studied them in class, and they know how they're grown because they've nurtured them in raised beds out back.

The 105-student school is part of the National Farm to School Network, aimed at getting healthier meals into school cafeterias, teaching kids about agriculture and nutrition and supporting local farmers.

About 40 states have farm-to-school programs, but Vermont is a leader in incorporating all three missions into its programs.

"Vermont has really taken it on in quite the most holistic way and not just in a couple of school districts, but statewide," said Anupama Joshi, director of the Farm to School program, based at the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Vermont might be a step ahead of other states because a nonprofit partnership called Vermont FEED already had been working to get local foods into schools.

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To make school food healthy, Michelle Obama has a tall order

Ed Bruske:

First lady Michelle Obama's new campaign against childhood obesity, dubbed "Let's Move," puts improvements to school food at the top of the agenda. Some 31 million children participate in federal school meal programs, Obama noted in announcing her initiative last week, "and what we don't want is a situation where parents are taking all the right steps at home -- and then their kids undo all that work with salty, fatty food in the school cafeteria," she explained. "So let's move to get healthier food into our nation's schools."

Last month I had a chance to see up close what all the school food fuss was about when I spent a week in the kitchen of my 10-year-old daughter's public school, H.D. Cooke Elementary, in Northwest D.C. Chartwells, the company contracted by the city to provide meals to the District's schools, had switched in the fall from serving warm-up meals prepackaged in a factory to food it called "fresh cooked," and I couldn't wait to chronicle in my food blog how my daughter's school meals were being prepared from scratch.

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February 14, 2010

Teach every child about food

Jamie Oliver:

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February 8, 2010

New Chef Will Help Pastry Level to Rise

Ben Goldberger:

New Chef Will Help Pastry Level to Rise
Restaurants like Charlie Trotter's, Tru and Per Se all have alumni of the French Pastry School in their kitchens.
Chicago has long attracted ambitious immigrants from all corners of the world. World champion bakers from tiny Alsatian villages are not usually among them.

Pierre Zimmermann may well be the first when he arrives in August to join the faculty of Chicago's French Pastry School. Mr. Zimmermann stands out in the tightly-knit and highly competitive international baking scene as the latest in four generations of his family who have run a boulangerie-patisserie in Schnersheim.

Mr. Zimmermann, 45, won the World Cup of Baking as a member of France's gold medal team at the 1996 Coupe du Monde de laBoulangerie and coached France's 2008 World Cup of Baking championship team.

The pedigree, and Mr. Zimmermann's deft touch with a baguette, made him such an attraction that the Loop school pursued him for four years.

That he chose to give up his job as "the little baker of my village," as he put it in a recent e-mail translated from French, is a testament to Chicago's importance among food cognoscenti and the French Pastry School's growing reputation.

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January 25, 2010

Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School

Tara Parker-Pope

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child's health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess -- sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

"Kids are calmer after they've had recess first," said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. "They feel like they have more time to eat and they don't have to rush."

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January 22, 2010

High cholesterol puts 1 of 5 teens at risk of heart disease

Rob Stein:

One out of every five U.S. teenagers has a cholesterol level that increases the risk of heart disease, federal health officials reported Thursday, providing striking new evidence that obesity is making more children prone to illnesses once primarily limited to adults.

A nationally representative survey of blood test results in American teenagers found that more than 20 percent of those ages 12 to 19 had at least one abnormal level of fat. The rate jumped to 43 percent among those adolescents who were obese.

Previous studies had indicated that unhealthy cholesterol levels, once a condition thought isolated to the middle-aged and elderly, were increasingly becoming a problem among the young, but the new data document the scope of the threat on a national level.

"This is the future of America," said Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University who heads the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee. "These data really confirm the seriousness of our obesity epidemic. This really is an urgent call for health-care providers and families to take this issue seriously."

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January 10, 2010

Madison Country Day students aim to open eyes to global hunger issues

Pamela Cotant:

When diners arrive at the Food for Thought hunger awareness banquet Friday at Madison Country Day School, they will be assigned a certain income level that will determine their meal.

Those in the lowest income group will be served rice on a banana leaf and at the other end of the spectrum, diners will be able to choose food from a table loaded with choices.

The idea of the hunger awareness event, which starts at 5 p.m. at the school at 5606 River Road on the edge of Waunakee, is to encourage the local community to help address global hunger.

"It's not supposed to be a depressing event," junior Fabian Fernandez said. "It's supposed to be eye opening."

After a discussion about global hunger issues, which will include talk about how those with enough food could be giving some to those who don't, the diners will be allowed to share their food. "The goal is to have people (assigned different income levels) eating near each other (to) help people see the difference," said freshman Imani Lewis-Norelle.

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January 9, 2010

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Michael O'Donnell:

In his brilliant and distressing essay on the cruelties of English boarding school life in the 1910s, "Such, Such Were the Joys," George Orwell devoted a few lines to the prevailing attitudes toward feeding children. A boy's appetite was seen as "a sort of morbid growth which should be kept in check as much as possible." At Orwell's school, St. Cyprian's, the food was therefore not only unappetizing but calorically insufficient; students were often told "that it is healthy to get up from a meal feeling as hungry as when you sat down." Only a generation earlier, school meals began with "a slab of unsweetened suet pudding, which, it was frankly said, broke the boys' appetites." Orwell described sneaking, terrified, down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a slice or two of stale bread to dull the hunger pains. His contemporaries at public school had it better, and worse: so long as their parents gave them pocket money to buy eggs, sausages, and sardines from street vendors, they scrounged enough food to get through the day.

This spirit of tut-tut character building through patronizing if affectionate deprivation comes off as thoroughly British, but for a time the attitude spanned the Atlantic. In 1906, one American principal opposed the growing enthusiasm for a school lunch program by warning: "If you attempt to take hardship and suffering out of their lives by smoothing the pathway of life for these children, you weaken their character, and by so doing, you sin against the children themselves and, through them, against society." Let them starve a little, went the thinking--it won't kill them, and it's better than getting fat on sweets.

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January 5, 2010

At Landover middle school, philosophy is part of lunch menu

Nelson Hernandez:

Schools these days focus mostly on preparing students for tests of reading and math, but during lunchtime at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, the youngsters sitting in a small circle were tackling the really deep questions: Ethics. Fairness. How to split dessert.

All three issues turned up as the seventh- and eighth-graders in the Philosophy Club tackled the question of the day: "Imagine that you are babysitting a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old. The parents have left some treats for dessert: two bananas, a lollipop and an ice cream bar. The parents' instructions are to allow each child to choose one treat. Unfortunately, both kids want the ice cream bar. How can you distribute the goods fairly?"

Someone suggested that they split the ice cream bar in half, but other students had other ideas.

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December 24, 2009

Senator seeks 'strict testing' for meat sent to schools

Blake Morrison & Peter Eisler:

A senator on the committee overseeing the National School Lunch Program called Monday for the government to raise its standards for meat sent to schools across the nation.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., urged "a strict testing program" for ground beef similar to those "used by industry leaders such as Jack in the Box and Costco."

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture already sets special inspection and testing requirements for the meat it sends to schools, a USA TODAY investigation this month found that those requirements lag those set by many fast food restaurants and grocery chains.

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December 12, 2009

Do we need lunch periods, or even cafeterias?

Jay Matthews:

A flood of emails Monday resisting my suggestion of longer school days to raise achievement leads me to wonder if parts of the regular school day could be put to better use. Is the typical raucous high school lunch period, in an overcrowded and sometimes dangerous cafeteria, really necessary? My colleague Jenna Johnson wrote last week of imaginative principals letting students avoid the cafeteria in favor of staying in classrooms to catch up with work or having club meetings. Can lunch become a time for stress-free learning, rather than Lord of the Flies with tile floors?

Okay, I confess I have long considered lunch a waste of time. I avoided the cafeteria during high school. My favorite lunch was eating a sandwich in a classroom while convening the student court, of which I was chief justice, so we could sanction some miscreant for stealing corn nuts from the vending machine. (I heard a radio ad for that classmate's business when I was home recently---he has become a successful attorney.) At the office these days I stay in my cubicle and have crackers and fruit juice, maybe a cookie if somebody has brought them from home.

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December 9, 2009

A New Front in War on Cavities

Shirley Wang:

Cavities have made a dismaying comeback in children in recent years, and the search is on among scientists to find new ways to fight tooth decay.

The prevalence of cavities in children aged 2 to 5 decreased steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, thanks largely to the expansion of water fluoridation and to advances in treatment and prevention, dental experts say. The trend appeared to hit a low around the mid-1990s, when about 24% of young children had cavities, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But tooth decay then began heading higher. A CDC survey found that 28% of small children--a significant increase, according to the agency--had cavities in the five years ended 2004, the latest data available. The reasons for the increase aren't entirely clear. But dental experts suggest it may be due to children drinking more bottled water that doesn't contain fluoride, and to changes in dietary habits.

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November 18, 2009

School meals: the breakfast sugar overload

Valerie Strauss:

The first thing that jumped out at me about today's Washington Post story about kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts was "sugar."

How much sugar was in the breakfast given to fourth-grader Alex Brown?

He had a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, amount not mentioned; but a single serving, 1 cup, has 14 grams of sugar. That's not especially high in the sweetened cereal world,
but it's not great.

The breakfast also included graham crackers, amount not mentioned. But the amount of sugar per serving, which is one little square, in Nabisco graham crackers is 2.2 grams.
Then there was the juice. The article said the boy had milk and juice, amount and kind not mentioned. But one serving, which is 1 cup, of Minute Maid orange juice has 22 grams of sugar.

If the child had a cup of Lucky Charms, two graham cracker squares and an 8-ounce glass of Minute Maid orange juice, he would have consumed 40.4 grams of sugar for breakfast.

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November 12, 2009

Congress should make sure children are protected from food-borne illnesses

Las Vegas Sun Editorial:

The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee wants an investigation into the safety of school lunches. Judging by what the nation has seen with E. coli outbreaks and other food scares, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has good reason to be concerned that potentially fatal contaminants could be served up in school cafeterias.

A recent report to Congress found that the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, which provides up to 20 percent of the food served in the nation's schools, doesn't always provide the schools with timely recall notices. That increases the risk of contaminated food making its way onto children's plates.

Miller notes that schools receive food from other sources and points to the recent E. coli outbreak from a meat packing plant in New York. None of the 500,000 pounds went to schools, but the contaminated meat -- which caused two deaths and sickened 16 others -- highlights another problem. The federal schools program mandates that all its beef be tested for E. coli. However, the meat that schools receive from other sources is not required to undergo E. coli testing.

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November 8, 2009

"Fast Food" Learning


In a Wellstone Elementary classroom, the five minutes before class have become the quietest part of the school day.

You can't blame the students for not talking. They're busy eating.

A growing school-breakfast program in St. Paul, called Breakfast to Go, allows these students to grab a free nutritious meal in the cafeteria and take it to class. This "fast food" ensures more children are eating their morning meal and can cut down on tardiness and other barriers to their education.

"There were people that had concerns about food in the classroom. But now they've seen the benefit of it and are very supportive of it," said Christine Osorio, principal of St. Paul's Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary, the site for the district's pilot program last year.

"Teachers really like having the kids up in class and getting started," Osorio said. "It's built community in classrooms. It's given us a much more relaxed start to our day."

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November 6, 2009

75% of Potential Military Recruits Too Fat, Too Sickly, Too Dumb to Serve

Noah Schachtman:

More than three-quarters of the nation's 17- to 24-year-olds couldn't serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They're too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions - asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military's biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

"The major component of this is obesity," Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions, tells Army Times' William McMichael. "Kids are just not able to do push-ups... And they can't do pull-ups. And they can't run."

23 percent of 18- to 34-year-old are now obese, up from just six percent in 1987.

The group of potential enlistees is further slimmed by the "propensity to serve" among American youths, which social scientists say also is declining. According to Gilroy, research shows that about 12 percent of all U.S. military-eligible youth show an interest in military service.

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November 5, 2009

Schools improve certification for school lunches

Henry Jackson:

Schools are doing a better job of identifying students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, but some states are much better than others, the Agriculture Department says in a report to Congress.

In 2008-2009, 78 percent of schools identified eligible students by using government records of which households already receive aid like food stamps. Use of the so-called direct certification method, the most efficient way to enroll school children in subsidized lunch programs, was up 11 percentage points from the previous year, according to the report, which is being delivered to Congress on Tuesday. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

Direct certification helps eliminate the lengthy application process for free meals.

Despite the overall improvement, the report shows a wide disparity in performance from state to state. The top four states - Alaska, Delaware, New York and Tennessee - all directly enrolled more than 90 percent of students from households that receive food stamps.

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October 23, 2009

San Francisco Schools Lunch Money Cut off, Rules Broken

Jill Tucker:

Since April, the school district has had to pony up the $1.5 million monthly cost of the lunch program for low-income students after state inspectors on a surprise visit found violations they deemed so serious and recurring that they cut off the flow of federal reimbursements.

The violations had nothing to do with the quality of food being served, but stem from the school district's inability to follow bureaucratic rules governing the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program, which is administered by the state.

To ensure no child goes without a lunch, the district, meanwhile, has spent more than $11 million, money it will get back once city schools show they can follow the rules - something district officials have been working on since the inspection.

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October 21, 2009

Cooking classes for children

Jenny Linford:

We know that children need to eat more healthily but the message will be useless if they don't learn to cook - and enjoy doing so. Sadly, a generation has already grown up without learning to cook at school: when the National Curriculum was introduced into UK state schools in 1990, practical cookery was sidelined in favour of "food technology". Children learned to design logos for pizza boxes, rather than to make a pizza.

This gaping hole in our children's education is something Katie Caldesi, director of Italian cookery school Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, London, is keen to correct. She has two sons aged seven and nine, and says: "It's criminal that we dropped cookery from the curriculum. Italian food lends itself to cookery for children as long as they don't just have white carbohydrates; in Italy you have pasta first, then meat, vegetables, then fruit."

To help get children cooking their favourite Italian dishes, Cucina Caldesi runs classes for those aged six and over alongside its adult programme. It also has a holiday workshop for teenagers, "La Cucina dei Ragazzi", led by Caldesi head chef Stefano Borella. I went to observe, while my 13-year-old son Ben, a keen eater and occasional cook, took part in the class alongside five others.

Borella, whose teaching style is informal but authoritative, won over the young cooks from the start. The aim of the session, he said, was to prepare, cook and eat a three-course meal: gnocchi with walnut pesto, fish skewers with lemon couscous and basil pannacotta served with berries.

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October 20, 2009

A lesson in school lunch

Susan Troller:

"Eat the taco salad. It's good."

The reassuring comment came from a crowd of seventh-grade boys at Velma Hamilton Middle School as I prepared to eat my first school lunch in more than 40 years.

They politely made room for me at the front of a line that circled the cafeteria/multipurpose room, nodding enthusiastically as I took the salad. As a former food writer and restaurant critic newly returned to covering topics about children and education, I wanted to experience firsthand school lunches at Madison's elementary, middle and high schools. Madison, like communities across the nation, is re-evaluating school meals with an eye toward making them more nutritious and appealing.

The taco salad featured finely shredded lettuce, providing a reasonably crisp bed for a mound of mildly seasoned ground beef; a dab of sour cream, a small plastic container of salsa and a small package of salty, tortilla chips completed the spread. It was the most popular purchased lunch option that day, although a majority of Hamilton's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders appeared to have brought their own lunches. With a half-pint of milk, the meal cost $3.30 (adult full-price middle school lunch). I'd probably give it a grade of C+ or B-.

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October 12, 2009

Beefing up: High school football players are bigger but not necessarily healthier

Eric Cexheimer & John Maher:

Last weekend, two football teams faced off in a fierce divisional rivalry. Both boasted intimidating offenses built around sumo-sized linemen; half of the two teams' centers, guards and tackles tipped the scales above 300 pounds.

The teams aren't from the NFL. They aren't big-time colleges, or even Division II or III squads. They are the Central Texas high schools of McNeil and Cedar Park. The largest of their linemen is approaching 350 pounds.

Once a rarity, teenaged mega-players have become a common sight under the Friday night lights. "If you were to weigh the lines of high school football teams, they're significantly higher in recent years," said Brian Carr, a physical therapist and trainer at Georgetown High School. "Compared to just 15 years ago, there's a huge difference."

Doctors and trainers are reporting increases in certain injuries -- stress-related muscle and ligament tears, knee strains and foot fractures -- that can be directly attributed to the strains placed on developing bodies by extra bulk. Weight-related medical problems are also beginning to crop up among the giant teenagers.

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October 8, 2009

Fewer Schools Sell Students Snacks


Fewer U.S. high schools and middle schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, the federal government said in a report released Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was based on a survey of public schools in 34 states that compared results from 2006 to 2008. The study didn't report the total number of schools that have changed. Instead, it looked at the proportion of schools in each state.

It found that the median proportion of high schools and middle schools that sell sugary or salty snacks dropped to 36% from 54%. The share of schools that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks fell to 37% from 62%.

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October 4, 2009

A Crackdown on Bake Sales in City Schools

Jennifer Medina:

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City's latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut.

In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.

The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

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September 21, 2009

A difficult lesson in tough love

Mrs. Moneypenny:

Do you keep phone numbers? I meticulously store contact details for everyone I meet, however random, and make notes of what they do and where I met them. My other modus operandi when meeting people is always to try to be as polite and helpful as possible (within reason).

Hence, I found myself giving up an hour or so earlier this year to cast an eye over the business strategy of a small enterprise. On meeting the people behind the business, I discovered that it was a rehabilitation clinic, and one of the people presenting to me was a very impressive addiction counsellor, and herself a recovering alcoholic.

And that is where I sat up and took notice, because I have a close relative who is alcohol-dependent. It is not Mr M or any of the cost centres, but it is someone very dear to me. Those of you who have someone in their family who is alcohol- or drug-dependent will know how emotionally scarring this is. You love them, you want to help, you try to help, but they are living in another world. In their world, they are not addicts; they believe that they could give up at any time. They always have an excuse. Something is always just around the corner that will fix their problems - if only they could meet the right person/get the right job/have the right amount of money, everything would be fine. Nothing and no one ever prepared me for the self-delusion of the alcoholic. Every time they say they are going to get help, your hopes rise; and invariably they end up being crushed again

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September 15, 2009

USDA Urges Schools, Hospitals, Others To 'Buy Local'


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching a campaign to encourage schools, hospitals, jails and other institutions to buy food from local producers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been trying to get Americans to eat more fruit and vegetables as a way to combat obesity. The campaign also aims to provide income for small farms and boost the economies in rural areas.

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September 2, 2009

Girls and Dieting, Then and Now

Jeffrey Zaslow:

One day in January 1986, fourth-grade girls at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, Ill., were called down to the principal's office.

A stranger was waiting there to ask each girl a question: "Are you on a diet?"

Most of the girls said they were.

"I just want to be skinny so no one will tease me," explained Sara Totonchi.

"Boys expect girls to be perfect and beautiful," said Rozi Bhimani. "And skinny."

I was the questioner that day. As a young Wall Street Journal reporter, I had gone to a handful of Chicago-area schools to ask 100 fourth-grade girls about their dieting habits. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco were about to release a study showing 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting, and I wanted to determine: Was this a California oddity, or had America's obsession with slimness reached the 60-pound weight class?

My reporting ended up mirroring the study's results. More than half of the 9-year-old girls I surveyed said they were dieting, and 75%--even the skinniest ones--said they weighed too much. I also spoke to fourth-grade boys and learned what the girls were up against. "Fat girls aren't like regular girls," one boy told me. "They aren't attractive."

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August 27, 2009

U.S. school lunch reform may open opportunity menu

Lisa Baertlein:

School lunch is back on the U.S. policy menu for the first time in decades, thanks to President Barack Obama's drive to make school food more nutritious and healthy.

Like any reform effort in Washington these days, the school lunch overhaul is vulnerable to a growing government deficit. But some companies and investors are getting in the game early with small projects that could some day grow into big business catering to millions of school children.

The U.S. government pays much of the bill for school food. Efforts to replace the processed and nutrition-poor foods still on many student lunch trays come with a higher price tag that many schools cannot afford. Businesses can help close the gap.

U.S. natural foods grocer Whole Foods Market Inc (WFMI.O) has teamed with Chef Ann Cooper -- best known for her high-profile partnership with Chef Alice Waters at Berkeley Unified School District -- to launch the Lunch Box project (, an expanding online guidebook to help school "lunch ladies" serve healthier food.

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August 20, 2009

Stars Aligning on School Lunches

Kim Severson:

ANN COOPER has made a career out of hammering on the poor quality of public school food. The School Nutrition Association, with 55,000 members, represents the people who prepare it.

A meal from the cafeteria at P.S. 89 in Manhattan does not contain processed food.
Imagine Ms. Cooper's surprise when she was invited to the association's upcoming conference to discuss the Lunch Box, a system she developed to help school districts wean themselves from packaged, heavily processed food and begin cooking mostly local food from scratch.

"All of a sudden I am not the fringe idiot trying to get everyone to serve peas and carrots that don't come out of a can, like that's the most radical idea they have ever heard of," she said.

The invitation is a small sign of larger changes happening in public school cafeterias. For the first time since a new wave of school food reform efforts began a decade ago, once-warring camps are sharing strategies to improve what kids eat. The Department of Agriculture is welcoming ideas from community groups and more money than ever is about to flow into school cafeterias, from Washington and from private providers.

"The window's open," said Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of agriculture. "We are in the zone when a whole lot of exciting ideas are being put on the table. I have been working in the field of sustainable agriculture and nutrition all my professional life, and I really have never seen such opportunity before."

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July 15, 2009

The 25 Best Foods for Fitness

When it comes to choosing the foods we eat, we have so many choices that it often becomes confusing. As Americans, we are blessed with almost every kind of food imaginable, available right next door at the supermarket. There are, however, some very specific foods that help improve athletic performance. The foods listed below are particular important to keep in your diet. The following foods, in alphabetical order, provide premium fuel for the active athlete.

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July 2, 2009

US obesity problem 'intensifies'


The Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found adult obesity rates rose in 23 of the 50 states, but fell in none.
In addition, the percentage of obese and overweight children is at or above 30% in 30 states.

The report warns widespread obesity is fuelling rates of chronic disease, and is responsible for a large, and growing chunk of domestic healthcare costs.

Obesity is linked to a range of health problems, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Jeff Levi, TFAH executive director, said: "Our health care costs have grown along with our waist lines. "The obesity epidemic is a big contributor to the skyrocketing health care costs in the US.

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May 31, 2009


Feeding America:

One in six young children live on the brink of hunger in 26 states in the U.S., according to a new report issued today by Feeding America. The rate of food insecurity in young children is 33 percent higher than in U.S. adults, where one in eight live at risk of hunger

Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005 -- 2007 states that 3.5 million children, ages five and under, are food insecure.

The analysis includes the first ever state-by-state analysis of early childhood hunger, using data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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May 30, 2009

Calorie Counts Could Crowd Fast-Food Menus

Mike Hughlett:

Public health advocates and the fast-food industry are preparing to go head-to-head over proposed federal legislation that would require restaurants to post calorie counts alongside prices. A patchwork of such laws at the state level have been enacted in recent years, and the restaurant industry has countered with proposing federal legislation on the issue - but public health advocates say the industry's proposed solution is too weak.

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May 27, 2009

Onalaska Students Transform Lunch Program

Wisconsin DPI:

After channeling their complaints about school lunch into an effort to make a real difference, students at Onalaska High School are enjoying healthier, better tasting choices--not to mention some national attention for the improvements they've made.

In 2007-08, Amy Yin, then a junior at Onalaska and the student representative to the local school board, was hearing grumbling from students about the elimination of favorite food choices. According to the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life, it was Principal Peter Woerpel who first planted the idea of starting a Student Nutrition Advisory Committee. Yin, a high-achieving Presidential Scholar semifinalist who got a perfect score on the ACT exam, ran with the concept, and it took off. The committee was a devoted group--meeting multiple hours every week, including on weekends.

Although some of the lost favorites didn't return--the chocolate chip muffins, for example, no longer met nutrition standards--the students were able to make an important impact. As they learned more about nutrition and the school lunch program, they were able to work with the school to provide choices that were both healthier and more appealing to the student body. These days, Onalaska High School serves fresh fruit instead of just canned, and offers a salad bar that became especially popular after the addition of ingredients in three different colors. Lunch participation and consumption in general is up, too.

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May 17, 2009

Schools aim to make lunches healthy, tasty

Amy Hetzner:

Before the first lunch period begins at Oconomowoc High School, students sidle up to see what chef Brian Shoemake is cooking.

"Chicken pasta broccoli bowl," Shoemake says in answer to an inquiry. "I'll get you to eat your broccoli."

Well, maybe not that student. But in the 15 minutes that ensue, Shoemake manages to fill the bowls of at least 60 others with steaming rotini, strips of chicken breast, their choice of Alfredo sauce and, yes, freshly cooked broccoli spears.

The addition of Shoemake to the lunch lineup this school year is part of a larger effort at the school.

Like a number of schools throughout the state, Oconomowoc High School is trying to tackle that seemingly intractable barrier in the fight to improve childhood nutrition: the school lunch.

"Student tastes have changed so much in the last 10 years," said Brenda Klamert, director of child nutrition services for the Oconomowoc Area School District. "They're looking for healthy foods."

Schools have been slow to meet the demand.

Sure, many have added salad bars. But most lunches remain high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fiber- and nutrient-rich food, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Washington-based group advocates a more vegetarian approach.

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April 29, 2009

Selling Obesity At School

NY Times Editorial:

The federal school lunch program, which subsidizes meals for 30 million low-income children, was created more than half a century ago to combat malnutrition. A breakfast program was added during the 1960s, and both were retooled a decade ago in an attempt to improve the nutritional value of food served at school.

More must now be done to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, which has triggered a frightening spike in weight-related disorders like diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease among young people. And the place to start is the schools, where junk foods sold outside the federal meals programs -- through snack bars, vending machines and à la carte food lines -- has pretty much canceled out the benefits of all those healthy lunches and breakfasts.

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April 25, 2009

Don't boycott school lunch, district tells Nuestro Mundo

Mary Ellen Gabriel:
A group of fourth-graders at Nuestro Mundo Elementary School had planned to remain in their classroom through lunch and recess Friday, enjoying a meal of fresh fruit, vegetables and homemade pasta at cloth-covered tables with flower centerpieces.

The group from Joshua Forehand's class, which calls itself BCSL ("Boycott School Lunch") formed to protest what they see as unhealthy food offered in the school's cafeteria, but they scrapped their plan to host a "Good Real Food" picnic after Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp called school administrators and parents to discourage it.

"There were too many obstacles," Abplanalp said in an interview, citing the possibility of allergy-causing ingredients in shared homemade food, lack of adequate supervision, and the presence of the news media as major concerns.

"We want students' voices to be heard. This just seemed to come together too fast, without various issues being addressed."

When asked if the district feared negative publicity, Abplanalp said no. Instead she cited student privacy as a major concern.

"We have strict guidelines about the media interviewing students on school grounds. The principal maintains a list of kids whose parents have given permission for media exposure."
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Brain Gain: The underground world of "neuroenhancing" drugs.

Margaret Talbot:

young man I'll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasn't on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldn't finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. "Trite as it sounds," he told me, it seemed important to "maybe appreciate my own youth." Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.

Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is "off label," meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug's manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing "any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours." In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram "extended release" capsule to his daily regimen.

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Obese primary school students are losing out when it comes to sports

Timothy Chui:

The Audit Commission did not spare the rod when it looked over the nutrition and exercise programs of primary schools and found things amiss.

Nearly a quarter of primary school children are obese - 120 percent heavier than the median weight for peers - compared with one-sixth in 1997, government statistics show.

Found wanting were better coordination and promotion from education, health and sports authorities to tackle obesity among primary school children.

According to the audit report released yesterday, students at nearly 100 primary schools were only managing 45 to 65 minutes of physical education a week, instead of the stipulated 70 minutes.

Compiled though 426 questionnaires and six school visits, the report revealed nearly one-third of 423 primary schools did not have physical activity policies compared with 42 which had undocumented polices and 28 percent with documented policies.

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April 21, 2009

A Proposal to Separate Fast Food and Schools

Cara Buckley:

Just in from the department of not-so-surprising news: a study has found that young teenagers tend to be fatter when there are fast-food restaurants within one block of their schools.

The report found an increased obesity rate of at least 5.2 percent among teenagers at schools where fast-food outlets were a tenth of a mile -- roughly one city block -- or less away.

To remedy that, Eric N. Gioia, a city councilman from Queens, wants to stop fast-food restaurants from opening so close to the city's schools.

"With the proliferation of fast-food restaurants directly around schools, it's a clear and present danger to our children's health," said Mr. Gioia, who proposed the ban at a news conference at a school opposite a McDonald's in TriBeCa on Sunday.

"A fast-food restaurant on the corner can have a terrible impact on a child's life," he said. "Obesity, diabetes, hypertension -- it's a step toward a less healthy life."

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April 18, 2009

The Dangers Of The Drinking Age

Jeffrey Miron & Elina Tetelbaum:

For the past 20 years, the U.S. has maintained a Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 (MLDA21), with little public debate about the wisdom of this policy. Recently, however, more than 100 college and university presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, a public statement calling for "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."

The response to the Amethyst Initiative was predictable: Advocates of restricted access and zero tolerance decried the statement for not recognizing that the MLDA21 saves lives by preventing traffic deaths among 18- to 20-year-olds. The president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, accused the university heads of "not doing their homework" on the relationship between the drinking age and traffic fatalities.

In fact, the advocates of the MLDA21 are the ones who need a refresher course. In our recently completed research, we show that the MLDA21 has little or no life-saving effect.

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March 31, 2009

Greens in cafe - culture call for school lunc

Timothy Chui:
Schools with cafeterias can reduce food wastage and save about 2.14 million disposable lunch boxes heading for landfills every year, Greeners Action project officer Yip Chui-man said yesterday.

Roughly 380,000 primary school students take lunch everyday, according to Yip, who said over one-third of 13,000 disposable lunch boxes went straight into the garbage, a February to March survey of 212 primary schools showed.

The survey suggested most primary schools want more funding to introduce canteens in a bid to cut down on waste.

With a mere 5 percent drop in the amount of disposable lunch boxes being junked, compared to seven years ago, Yip is calling on the Education Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department to set up regulations to control lunch-time garbage.

A resounding 95 percent of primary schools want public money to outfit them with a cafeteria.
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March 13, 2009

Written Bomb Threat at Madison West High School: Letter to Parents

Principal Ed Holmes [9K PDF] via a kind reader's email:

When Madison Schools receive any information that jeopardizes or threatens the safety of our schools, we immediately report the incident to Madison Police and consult with them to determine what the best course of action should be.

The Madison School District has well-defined protocols that are implemented anytime a threat is made against schools. The decisions regarding a response to safety situations are always made in close consultation with the Madison Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

The safest place for students is in school where we provide structure and supervision. Therefore any decision to remove students from that environment has to be weighed carefully with a potential for placing them in a less structured environment that potentially raises other safety concerns.

These procedures were followed today at West High in response to a written bomb threat.

After consulting with District Administration, the building was searched at 6:00 a.m. using trained Madison Metropolitan School district engineers, architects and custodial supervisors. This procedure has been used in other schools under similar circumstances. Our goal is to maintain a safe educational environment for all students and staff. We have an excellent relationship with our students and encourage them to talk with us about possible issues. We ask you, as families, to help keep our lines of communication open by encouraging your students to talk about their concerns.

West High continues to be a safe place. We pledge that we will continue to focus our time, attention, and resources to keep it so.

Ed Holmes, Principal
Madison West High School [Map]

Related: Police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006 and recent Madison police calls (the event referenced in the letter above is not present on the police call map as of this morning (3/13/2009)).

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Battling childhood obesity in the US: An interview with Robert Wood Johnson's CEO

Matt Miller & Lynn Taliento:

Obesity used to be a privilege reserved for wealthy people in wealthy countries. Now, however, this and other lifestyle diseases also afflict better-off people in poorer countries and poorer people in richer ones, particularly the United States. In 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation--the biggest US philanthropy devoted solely to health care and health, with roughly $8 billion in assets--announced that it would award $500 million in grants to reverse the soaring incidence of US childhood obesity over the past 40 years. These grants support programs designed to raise levels of physical activity and improve nutrition for kids; to identify other levers for reversing the childhood obesity epidemic; and to determine, advocate, and implement the requisite policy and environmental changes. The foundation also focuses on issues such as improving the quality of the US health care system; increasing access to stable, affordable health care; strengthening the public-health system; and addressing the health needs of vulnerable populations.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, who holds both an MD and an MBA, has been president and CEO of the foundation since late 2002. Matt Miller, a senior adviser to McKinsey, and Lynn Taliento, a principal in the Washington, DC, office, interviewed her at the foundation's headquarters,...

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March 10, 2009

60 Minutes on Lowering the Drinking Age

Radley Balko:

The video below aired a couple of weeks ago, but it's a pretty good look at the drinking age debate, with lots of camera time for Amethyst Initiative founder John McCardell.

(Note: If video isn't working below, you can watch it here.)

One quibble: At one point in the segment, Lesley Stahl suggests that the "conundrum" for policymakers is that raising the drinking age has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities, but may be contributing to fatalities associated with underage binge drinking.

But there may not be a conundrum at all. When I interviewed McCardell for the February issue of Reason, he explained why the argument that raising the drinking age is responsible for the 20-year drop in highway deaths doesn't hold water:

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March 4, 2009

Parents wonder whether Madison's school lunches are healthy for kids

Mary Ellen Gabriel:

The "hot lunch" line snakes out the door of the multipurpose room at Franklin Elementary School. Kids dressed in snow boots and parkas file past a table where a staff member is handing out plastic-wrapped containers of hot dogs and fries, canned peaches and a cookie. Forget trays or plates. The kids clutch the packages in both hands and, after a student helper plunks a carton of milk on top, hug the whole load to their chests, trying not to drop mittens and hats. They scurry into the gym and squeeze into a spot at one of the crowded lunch tables, where the "cold lunch" kids are chowing down with a 10-minute head start. Twelve minutes left before the bell rings. Better eat fast.

Is the Madison Metropolitan School District's school lunch program unhealthy for kids?

It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.

"We're perpetuating a fast-food mentality," said Pat Mulvey, a personal chef and the parent of a second-grader and a kindergartner at Franklin. "We can do better."

Mulvey has joined a small group of parents at south side Franklin and affiliated Randall Elementary calling for changes to the school lunch program. Among their concerns: a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as "processed" or "junk food," little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.

This isn't the first time parents in the district have raised concerns about school lunch. For the past decade, parents, educators and healthy food advocates in the Madison area have asked the School Board, principals and the district's food service to serve more fresh foods and make lunch longer than 25 minutes.

This issue has come up a number of times over the years.

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February 27, 2009

Teachers Are All That, And A Bag Of Chips


Some teachers in Oregon want to do as they do, not as they say. The state has banned the sale of junk food in schools in an effort to protect the health of kids. But under prodding from teachers, the Oregon state House approved an exception. If the measure becomes law, unhealthy snacks would be allowed in teachers' lounges. The teachers say they're adults and can decide for themselves whether they should eat chips.

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February 18, 2009

Kids' Cholesterol Study Is Reassuring, Doctors Say


Fewer than 1% of American teens are likely to need cholesterol drugs, says a new study that offers some reassuring news on the childhood obesity front.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued eyebrow-raising new guidelines: Doctors were urged to consider cholesterol drugs for more kids, even as young as 8, if they had high levels of "bad cholesterol," or LDL, along with other health problems like obesity and high blood pressure.

The academy didn't address how many children might fall into that category. Now, a new study published online Monday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation helps allay concerns that "many, many" children might need to be on cholesterol drugs, said Stephen Daniels, lead author of the pediatric guidelines.

"The concern was I think, because there's an increasing level in obesity, that it would lead to higher and higher cholesterol levels. They don't seem to be going up," he said.

The new pediatrics guidance was based on growing evidence that damage leading to heart disease begins early in life. At the same time, recent research has shown that cholesterol-fighting drugs are generally safe for children.

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February 17, 2009

In France, Culinary Education Starts In Day Care

Eleanor Beardsley:

In the land of high cuisine, even lunch in preschool is a culinary delight. French culinary traditions and knowledge are cultivated at a very young age. Even toddlers in day care centers are taught how to sit at a table and are encouraged to eat all kinds of foods.

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December 27, 2008

Is Recess Necessary?

Jay Matthews:

I often spout opinions on matters about which I know nothing, so I understand when my favorite peer group -- the American people -- does the same. The latest example is a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults [931K PDF] by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which specializes in public health projects, and Sports4Kids, a national nonprofit organization that supports safe and healthy playtime in low-income elementary schools.

According to the survey's press release, "seven out of 10 Americans disagree with schools' policies of eliminating or reducing recess time for budgetary, safety or academic reasons." I realize most people don't know how poisonous recess can be for urban schools with severe academic needs, but I was surprised to see the news release fail to acknowledge this. It even suggests, without qualification, that "in low-income communities" recess time "offers one of our best chances to help children develop into healthy, active adults who know how to work together and resolve conflicts."

Few Americans have an opportunity to experience what teaching in urban schools is like. The people I know who have done so have developed a well-reasoned antipathy for the typical half-hour, go-out-and-play-but-don't-kill-anybody recess. In my forthcoming book, "Work Hard. Be Nice," about the Knowledge Is Power Program, I describe the classroom and playground chaos KIPP co-founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin encountered before starting their first KIPP fifth grade in a Houston public elementary school, the beginning of their successful program:

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December 26, 2008

Local, Fresh Lunches Would be a Tasty Change

Margaret Krome:

My friend gave a guest presentation at a local high school last week and was invited to stay for lunch. "Horrible," was her description of the meal. "I appreciated the generous invitation, and I'm sure the lunch ladies worked hard, but it was awful. Pizza, totally tasteless chicken sandwiches and fried food -- that's what we offer our children at school."

Any parent who has peered into their school cafeteria's garbage can to see what children throw out knows my friend is right. But it's not for lack of caring on the part of school nutritionists. The amount of funding they receive for school meals is ridiculously low and not been updated for years. Fruits and vegetables are reimbursed at 10 cents a day, and the state school meal reimbursement rates haven't changed since 1981.

But panels of legislators, medical experts, school dieticians, educators, agency staff and others have been working this year to change the situation. They are motivated largely by the high and increasing rates of overweight and obese adults in Wisconsin.

Obesity's significance for health is clear. Being obese or overweight increases one's risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and osteoarthritis. Our state's annual obesity-related medical costs were estimated in 2004 to be $1.5 billion.

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December 23, 2008

Fast food + nearby schools = fat kids

Julie Steenhuysen:

Youth who study just a short walk from a fast-food outlet eat fewer fruit and vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese than students at other schools, according to research published Tuesday.

The study, which involved more than 500,000 adolescents at middle schools and high schools in California, lends new fuel to a growing backlash against the fast-food industry as studies suggest they contribute to the rising obesity epidemic in the United States.

"We've basically discovered that kids who are going to a school that is near a fast-food restaurant have a higher chance of being overweight and obese than kids who are at a school that is not near a fast-food restaurant," said Brennan Davis of Azusa Pacific University in California, whose study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

U.S. youth obesity rates have tripled since 1980, although they leveled off this decade. The government says 32 percent of U.S. children are overweight and 16 percent are obese.

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November 28, 2008

School Soda Ban Has Limited Effect Eliminating sugary beverages did not affect overall consumption, study finds


A new study suggests that cutting sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks from school cafeteria menus will have little effect on teens' overall consumption of the beverages.

Because these drinks are believed to be a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity in the United States, many schools across the nation are banning them or curbing their availability to students. To assess the impact of this strategy, researchers followed 456 students at seven schools in southern and central Maine over two school years. Four of the schools reduced the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) for one school year (intervention schools), while the other three took no action (control schools).

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November 25, 2008

Children Who Live in Public Housing Suffer in School, Study Says

Manny Fernandez

New York City children who live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing, according to a study by New York University researchers.

The study, which is being released on Monday, found that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing.

It also showed that fifth graders living in public housing did worse on standardized math and reading tests than fifth graders who lived elsewhere. Researchers found this disparity in fifth-grade test scores even when comparing students at the same school who shared similar demographics, like race, gender and poverty status.

The report is the first large-scale study of the academic performance of children growing up in the city's 343 public housing complexes, researchers said. They suggest that those children face social and economic hurdles at home that affect their success in the classroom and illustrate the often-overlooked role that housing can play in education. The report was done by the university's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and its Institute for Education and Social Policy.

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November 13, 2008

Obese kids have arteries of 45-year-old

John Fauber:

Neck arteries of obese children as young as 10 resembled those of a typical 45-year-old, a new study has found.

The research is more evidence that the process of artery disease can begin early in life, increasing the risk of premature heart disease in adulthood.

"These findings confirm some of our big picture concerns about childhood obesity," said Aaron Carrel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "It is a very direct link with disease."

Carrel, who was not a part of the research, said artery disease in obese children was something that doctors had long suspected, but the level of disease found in the study was higher than anticipated.

UW doctors also have been finding abnormally high levels of cholesterol in obese kids ages 5 to 18, Carrel said.

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November 11, 2008

Madison school cafeterias have "impressive" safety records

Melanie Conklin:

While there's no controlling what happens once kids get their hands on the food, some of the safest public places to buy meals are Madison school cafeterias.

A review of Madison-Dane County Health Department records of Madison school cafeteria inspections showed that school scores were far better than the average restaurant score. Out of 164 Madison cafeteria inspections, 49 resulted in a perfect score of zero and 115 found no critical violations.

To put that in perspective, the average score for restaurants hovers around 20, and anything above 50 is viewed as troublesome. Madison school cafeterias averaged 3.3 over the past four years. The worst school score -- Spring Harbor Middle School with a score of 22 in 2005 -- was on par with restaurants. And the next two years Spring Harbor scored a perfect zero.

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Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?

Tara Parker-Pope

Schools have been vilified for giving kids access to soda in vending machines. But new data suggests that school soft drink sales may not be an important factor in how much soda kids drink.

In the current issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers compared soda consumption among nearly 500 students in Maine who attended seven schools over two school years. Four of the schools cut back on soft drink availability at the schools, while three of the schools made no changes.

Notably, all the students were drinking less soda by the end of the study period, but there were no meaningful differences in overall soft drink consumption among the different schools. The data suggest that curbing soft drink availability at school doesn't result in meaningful changes in beverage consumption patterns. While there were no changes in overall soda consumption, there was a notable shift in diet soda drinking among girls. If the school cut back on soda availability, girls were less likely to drink diet soda, compared to girls in schools that made no changes.

The data are the latest to suggest that schools may not play as big of a role in kids' poor eating habits as widely believed. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that childhood weight problems often get worse in the summer, when kids are out of school.

Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

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School Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

Patricia Leigh Brown:

Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.

The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

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November 10, 2008

Needed: fresh ideas for school lunches


Do as I say, not as I do. That's the lesson being taught every day in school cafeterias across Long Island. According to a series of Newsday reports, school lunches are high in fat and sodium, and low on fresh ingredients. Lunch programs, which are expected to pay their own way without help from the school budget, rely on chip and cookie sales - not to mention sugary soda machines - to amp up their profits.

We are sending kids all the wrong messages by placing these bad-habit-forming temptations in their paths. For a few cents more per meal, children could be eating healthfully and learning by example about good nutrition.

Sure, the few cents add up. But aren't we already paying a price? New Yorkers spend $242 million a year to treat obesity-related illness in children, and $6.1 billion a year on adults. Studies show that overweight children often carry the weight into adulthood.

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Stoughton teacher hopes to get kids stuck on fruits, veggies

Pamela Cotant:

Physical education teacher John Ames wants to teach kids about the importance of healthy eating habits while they're young.

So for the last couple of months Ames has been spending his lunch hour in the Kegonsa Elementary School cafeteria handing out stickers to kids who eat a fruit or vegetable in their lunch. The students have been excitedly showing him empty grape vines, apple cores and banana peels -- evidence that they are eating fruit.

The students placed the stickers on the large wall poster that reads, "We Go Bananas for Physical Education." The students filled up one letter and then moved on to the next on the poster in the cafeteria, which also is the school's gym.

Ames calls the effort Project Banana.

"I wanted to get the kids excited about physical education class and add a health component to it," said Ames, who was wearing a yellow "Banana Man" T-shirt he found on the Internet. "Diet and exercise are the main staples to a healthy life."

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November 9, 2008

Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

It's not just Madison...

Patricia Leigh Brown

Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.

The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

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November 5, 2008

Food allergies on rise in children

Erin Richards:

One M&M, swallowed whole, and little Noelle's skin turned as red as a Cortland apple.

A month later, after eating soy ice cream, the 2-year-old turned colors again and started drooling, prompting her mother to inject a syringe full of epinephrine into the child's leg.

Karen Tylicki of Mukwonago has no idea why her daughter's body treats certain foods as if they were poison. Tylicki, like parents of a growing number of food-allergic kids in Milwaukee and elsewhere around the country, is familiar with the fear, uncertainty, grief and sorrow that frequently accompany the condition.

Add hope to that list. Thanks to a La Crosse clinic that's gaining attention for its work desensitizing patients with food allergies, Noelle, now 6, can ingest almost 2 ounces of milk without a reaction.

The spike in the number of kids with food allergies - an 18% increase nationwide over the past decade, according to a newly released study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - has prompted many schools and day-care facilities to develop new safety measures.

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November 3, 2008

Healthier meals served at pricier Long Island private schools

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher:

Typical lunchtime fare includes quinoa, bean cakes, Swiss chard, fresh beets, tofu, tempeh, kimchee.

There are no sloppy joes. Hamburgers are served only three times a year during field days, and the beef is organic.

Private schools such as the Ross School in East Hampton don't operate under the same cost constraints public schools face when attempting to serve healthy food, allowing them more freedom to go beyond traditional school cafeteria meals.

Ross' food often is held up as a model for student dining.

A staff of 17 line chefs with impressive culinary backgrounds cook from scratch in a kitchen that rivals a five-star restaurant. And students actually like the healthy offerings, evidenced by the fact that they go through about 25 pounds of tofu per day.

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October 26, 2008

An In-depth Look at School Lunches on Long Island


Newsday examined hundreds of school menus, budgets and vending machine contracts, and spoke to professionals and leaders. What we found might disturb you.

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October 22, 2008

Kids' Cereals Saltier, Report Says

Julie Jargon & Aaron Patrick:

Cereal makers that reduce the amount of sugar in kids' cereals tend to ratchet up the salt content to improve flavor, says a report expected to be released Tuesday by Consumers International.

Cereal makers have been under pressure from consumer groups to reduce the sugar content of their kids' cereals, and Consumers International, in its report, "Cereal Offenses," says "manufacturers are likely to add salt to boost the flavor of the product, and may use salt to maintain customer appeal when sugar levels are reduced."

The London-based organization, an umbrella group representing 220 consumer groups globally, focused on products made by two of the world's largest makers of cereal for children, Nestlé SA of Vevey, Switzerland, and Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. The group defined children's cereals as those that feature cartoon characters on the packaging, are endorsed by celebrities popular with kids and are advertised on kids' television programming.

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October 2, 2008

3 Madison schools offer free fresh fruit, veggies

The Capital Times:

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program has expanded to 56 schools in Wisconsin this year, including three Madison elementary schools, providing free fresh fruit and vegetables during the school day to all students wanting a quick nutritious snack.

The state received $870,994 in the national farm bill for the program, which works out to $51 per student for the 17,000 state students served.

The program started in 2002 as a way to combat obesity in kids. Funding is geared to schools with a higher incidence of students from economically disadvantaged families.

Madison schools getting funding through the program for fresh fruits and vegetables include Falk Elementary ($15,700), Glendale Elementary ($20,696) and Hawthorne Elementary ($16,312).

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September 30, 2008

Schools Sans Sodas

Jennifer Huget:

Substantial headway has been made lately in getting sugary (and high-fructose corn syrup-laden) sodas out of schools.

But that might not make much difference in kids' overall soda consumption.

Both pieces of news came across my desk as I was writing today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about school lunch nutrition. Together they demonstrate how daunting a goal it is to try to change eating and drinking habits -- other people's and our own.

The good news, coming from the American Beverage Association, is that sweetened soft drinks accounted for less than 25 percent of beverages sold in schools last year; that's down from 40 percent in 2004. The ABA has been working with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation (as in former President Bill) to affect a shift toward healthier drinks -- those with fewer calories and offered in smaller portions than your standard can of pop -- in schools. Bottled water has filled much of the gap, moving from 13 percent of the beverages sold in schools in 2004 to almost 28 percent last year.

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September 25, 2008

Reinventing the School Lunch


Speaking at the 2007 EG conference, "renegade lunch lady" Ann Cooper shares her passionate belief in remaking the school lunch. She uses scathing language to describe how most American kids are fed at the noon bell, out of cans, boxes and plastic bags -- sowing the seeds of the obesity epidemic that is spreading from the US around the globe. But, she says, there's a coming revolution in the way kids eat at school -- local, sustainable, seasonal and even educational food. (Recorded December 2007 in Los Angeles, California. Duration: 19:42.)

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September 22, 2008

Schools Sour on Giving Students Sweet Rewards

Daniel de Vise:

Schools around the Washington region are quietly removing Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Pops from the teacher's desk, ending a long tradition of rewarding classroom obeisance with candy.

In the District and many suburbs, school systems have imposed rules during the past two years that discourage teachers from using candy or other junk food as an incentive. Some policies reject any offer of food as reward, or denial of food as punishment, on the theory that students should not be taught it is a privilege to eat.

Regulation of classroom candy is part of a broader "wellness" movement that has swept public schools this decade. Federal law required school systems to establish rules by fall 2006 to govern Gummi Worms in cafeterias and sodas in vending machines, birthday cupcake parties and Halloween binges, physical education and recess, as well as the proliferation of candy and other food of questionable nutritional value in contests, promotions and everyday classroom activities.

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September 6, 2008

Healthy school meal vs a Big Mac. Which one wins? Ask your inner child

Tim Hayward:

England is bringing in 'the most robust nutrient standards for school lunches in the world' - but we might have to force them down children's throats

This week "the most robust nutrient standards for school lunches in the world" come into force in English primary schools. The new menus announced by the schools secretary, Ed Balls, include healthy versions of lunchroom standards - "from traditional roasts to chilli con carne and shepherd's pie; from homemade salmon fingers and stir fries to risotto, with fresh fruit, vegetables and salads".

Junk food is already banned from school canteens and vending machines - but the new standards specify the maximum (fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt) and minimum (carbohydrate, protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, zinc) nutrient value of an average school lunch.

Getting high-quality food into schools is only half the issue. According to Balls, many children who eat healthy lunches at primary school stop when they go to senior school - put off by long queues, unpopular menus or having to eat in the same room as teenagers six or seven years older. The guidelines move into new territory by suggesting kids won't be put off school meals if they are treated "like the paying customers they are".

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September 5, 2008

Schools warned of pupils hooked on energy drinks

Polly Curtis:

Children are becoming dependent on energy drinks that have dramatic effects on their concentration and behaviour in schools, drug experts have warned.

Schools are being advised to observe children for signs of agitation which could be a result of excessive caffeine consumption. It follows reports of pupils drinking large quantities of energy drinks or taking caffeine-based pills.

The warning, from the anti-drugs advisory group Drug Education UK, comes as ministers prepare to unveil new measures tomorrow to improve school dinners and advise parents on children's packed lunches.

Bob Tait, from Drug Education UK, said: "There is a growing problem of caffeine abuse in schools. Most schools have a drug education programme to advise kids against illegal drugs, but there is less known about legal highs."

He made his warning at a conference of school nurses this week, the Nursing Standard reported. Tait said: "Children will drink them on the walk to school, at break and lunch time. If you have got a child who is worked up on an energy drink, they are going to be agitated during lesson time."

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September 4, 2008

Soda Bans & Schools

Rosie Mestel:

Eliminate soft drinks at schools and you'll make a change in how many sodas the nation's kids slurp down, right? Hmm. A new study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn. suggests that the effect is less than huge.

The study, by Meenakshi Fernandes at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, analyzed data from nearly 11,000 fifth-graders in more than 2,000 schools in 40 states. She looked at how many soft drinks the kids consumed overall, and how many soft drinks they consumed in school. She also compared the consumption rates for kids who went to schools that banned soft drinks with those that permitted them.

Fernandes' conclusion from this: Soft drink bans in schools led to a 4% reduction in soft drink consumption. "Greater reductions in children's consumption of soft drinks will require policy changes that go beyond food availability in school," she writes.

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September 2, 2008

Spot on Popularity Scale Speaks to the Future; Middle Has Its Rewards

Benedict Carey:

The cult of popularity that reigns in high school can look quaint from a safe distance, like your 20th reunion. By then the social order may have turned over like an hourglass: teenagers who were socially invisible have emerged as colorful characters, confident, transformed. Others seem preserved in time, same as ever, while some former princes and queen bees are diminished or simply absent, now invisible themselves.

For years researchers focused much attention on those prominent teenagers, tracking their traits and behaviors. The studies found, to no one's surprise, that social dominance in adolescence often involves an aggressive, selfish streak that may not play well outside the locker-lined corridors.

The cult disbands, and the rules change.

Yet high school students know in their gut that popularity is far more than a superficial, temporary competition, and in recent years psychologists have confirmed that intuition. The newer findings suggest that adolescents' niche in school -- their popularity, and how they understand and exploit it -- offers important clues to their later psychological well-being.

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To Be Young and Anxiety-Free

Andrea Petersen:

Last fall, 12-year-old John Morganti was a very anxious kid. He was too scared to ride the bus to school or have sleepovers at friends' houses. He had frequent stomachaches, hid out in the nurse's office and begged his mother to let him skip school.

"He would get so scared, he would be in a little ball in the corner," says John's mother, Danielle Morganti, of Pittsgrove, N.J.

John was later diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and underwent a treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy. By spring, he had largely recovered and was happily taking the bus and playing with friends at parties.

Historically, anxiety disorders were seen as something that primarily hit teens and adults. Anxious kids, many experts thought, would simply grow out of their fears. But now, many doctors believe that John's illness was caught at the ideal time. Indeed, there's a new push by doctors and therapists to identify children afflicted with anxiety disorders -- even those as young as preschool age -- and treat them early.

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September 1, 2008

Eat Up, Kids, This Spud's for You

Anne Marie Chaker:

Karen Kleinkopf, whose two daughters attend Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta, Maine, visited the cafeteria at lunchtime one day last fall. "The response was incredible," she says. "Little kids were eating organic potatoes saying, 'I love this. Can we have this every day?' "

Union No. 74 school district in Damariscotta is on a mission to freshen up its cafeteria menu. Starting with a pilot project last year, the district of four schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, began working with farmers to get local produce onto lunch menus. Salad veggies and potatoes came from Goranson Farm in nearby Dresden, while Spear's Farm in Waldoboro provided corn on the cob. For 15 weeks, these items replaced the tougher, well-traveled veggies typically bought from large distributors.

The kids ate the stuff up, with cafeteria workers reporting as much as one-third less "plate waste" than with the typical fare, says Michael Sanborn, the district's nutrition director.

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August 13, 2008

College Students Behaving Badly

Tara Parker-Pope:

Many people associate property crime and other delinquent behaviors with low social status and a lack of education. But new research has identified a surprising risk factor for bad behavior — college.

Men who attend college are more likely to commit property crimes during their college years than their non-college-attending peers, according to research to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Boston this weekend.

Sociologists at Bowling Green State University in Ohio examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which tracks education, crime levels, substance abuse and socializing among adolescents and young adults. Beginning with 9,246 students who were seventh through twelfth graders in the 1994-1995 academic year, the survey followed the students again in 1996 and 2001. The study defined “college students” or “college-bound youth” as those who were enrolled full-time in a four-year college for at least 12 months by the third wave of the survey. “Non-college students” were defined as those respondents who either did not attend college through the course of the study or were not enrolled full-time at a four-year university.

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August 10, 2008

Dreams for school's accessible playground prove boundless

The Capital Times:

Members of the Elvehjem Elementary School community, including students, teachers, parents and other supporters of a unique idea, watched Friday as groundbreaking occurred for a playground designed to be inclusionary to all.

The new playground is designed for use by all kids, including those with disabilities who could not participate in play with their peers on older models of playgrounds.

Last year members of the Elvehjem community decided to enter a national contest for a Boundless Playground and submitted an essay they hoped would win the day for the east side school. But they fell just short, finishing third out of 900 entries.

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July 5, 2008

School Is Out, and Nutrition Takes a Hike

Tara Parker-Pope:

As my 9-year-old daughter began summer day camp last week, we talked about swimming rules, sunscreen and ... cheese fries.

It was at summer camp a few years ago that she first experienced the culinary joy of cheese fries, which can pack 800 or more calories in a serving. Her camp is typical of those around the country: days packed with archery, swimming and adventure climbing; menus packed with soft drinks, burgers, chicken nuggets and, once a week, cheese fries.

Camp food is just one of the summertime nutrition challenges for parents these days. While childhood health advocates often blame schools for poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity, the problem often gets worse in the summer. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that schools may be taking too much of the blame for the childhood obesity epidemic.

Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

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June 27, 2008

Study: Many teens get alcohol from adults

Hope Yen:

Many of the nation's estimated 10.8 million underage drinkers are turning to their parents or other adults for free alcohol.

A government survey of teens from 2002 to 2006 said slightly more than half had engaged in underage drinking.

Asked about the source of alcohol, 40 percent they got it from an adult for free over the past month, the survey said. Of those, about one in four said they got it from an unrelated adult, one in 16 got it from a parent or guardian and one in 12 got it from another adult family member.

Roughly 4 percent reported taking the alcohol from their own home.

"In far too many instances parents directly enable their children's underage drinking — in essence encouraging them to risk their health and well-being," said acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson. "Proper parental guidance alone may not be the complete solution to this devastating public health problem — but it is a critical part."

Doctors in Madison said this problem is real and they've seen some young teens come in with alcohol poisoning.

Physicians fear drinking at a young age can lead not only to lower performance in school and stressed relationships with family members but can also lead to more serious problems later in life, WISC-TV reported.

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June 25, 2008

Public Milwaukee Boarding School by 2011?

Dani McClain:

A coalition of prominent Milwaukeeans working to establish an urban boarding school for at-risk youth today announced its intention to raise between $30 million and $40 million in private funds to support opening a school in three years.

The Wisconsin Coalition for a Public Boarding School also plans to attempt to persuade legislators to allocate state funding for the college-prep program, the initiative's leaders said today at a media event at the Charles Allis Art Museum.

The school would open in 2011 with 80 sixth-grade students and with an initial state contribution of around $2 million. If the coalition can persuade the Legislature to back the initiative, the school would reach full public funding by 2017 with an annual state contribution of around $10 million, said Jeanette Mitchell, community adviser to the Washington, D.C.-based SEED Foundation.

More from the Milwaukee Business Journal.

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June 23, 2008

LA Tries to Put the "Wow" in School Lunches

Mary MacVean:

Mark Baida was pleased with his latest taste test: lots of empty little black trays, sometimes stacked three deep in front of his guinea pigs, a group of Garfield High School students.

But the pressure is on the new executive chef of the Los Angeles Unified School District: Demands are growing from parent groups, the school board and students for food that is delicious, healthful, served quickly -- and really, really inexpensive. In the last few years, the school board has banned soda and set standards for salt and fat, among other things. Now the aim is to make it more appealing too.

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May 29, 2008

Childhood Obesity Rates Stop Rising

Rob Stein:

The obesity epidemic may have peaked among U.S. children, halting a decades-long trend of inexorably expanding waistlines among the nation's youngest and most vulnerable, federal health officials reported yesterday.

A new analysis of the most recent data collected by an ongoing government survey, considered the most authoritative on the subject, detected the first sign since the 1980s that the proportion of 2-to-19-year-olds who are overweight may have stopped rising, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

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Friend or Foe: The scoop on Toki lunches

Monika Hetzler & Erika Rodriguez:

Ask Toki Middle School students how they feel about school lunches, and you’ll get varied responses. Some say they never eat it, while others claim “it’s the best lunch I’ve had!” Whether people like the food or not isn’t necessarily indicative of the healthfulness of school lunches.

University of Wisconsin nutritionist Marcy Braun said the nutritional value of school lunches could be “greatly improved” and described her ideal school lunch.

“Well, first, I would make the lunch period longer,” said Braun, adding that if schools provided more space and played music during lunch, it would “make the room more alive,” which could be a “key factor” in creating a better environment.

Via Isthmus.

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May 20, 2008

Obesity Threatens a Generation

Susan Levine & Rob Stein:

In ways only beginning to be understood, being overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life. Virtually every major organ is at risk. The greater damage is probably irreversible.

Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians' offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.

With one in three children in this country overweight or worse, the future health and productivity of an entire generation -- and a nation -- could be in jeopardy.

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May 19, 2008

Northside Elementary Wins Governor's Health Award

Jason Dean:

Middleton's Northside Elementary School was one of 27 schools in the state to earn the Silver Award in the 2008 Governor's School Health Awards program.

First lady Jessica Doyle and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster announced the winners on Thursday.

"These awards recognize schools for developing and maintaining quality school health programs, and for involving parents and the community to improve the long-term health of the students," Burmaster said.

"Healthier students support healthier communities, which in turn support a healthier Wisconsin," Doyle said.

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May 16, 2008

Caught in a Swirl of Drug Violence, Mexico Vows to Fight Back

James McKinley:

President Felipe Calderón and dozens of federal agents attended the funeral of the chief of the federal police on Friday morning, a day after his assassination, even as investigators focused on the possibility that someone inside the police force had tipped off the killers to his location.

The services for the federal police chief, Commander Edgar Millán Gómez, and two other agents killed in the line of duty this week started just a half-hour after four armed men shot and killed a commander in Mexico City’s police force outside his home.

Newspapers here, moreover, were full of reports of battles between drug gangs in Sinaloa State, including one involving a bazooka. A sense that violence by organized crime had spun out of control seemed to hang over the country.

After the service, Mr. Calderón, escorted by heavier security than usual, traveled to Tamaulipas State on the border with Texas, where drug dealers have clashed repeatedly with troops and the federal police, to send the message that his administration would not be intimidated by Mr. Millán’s assassination.

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April 25, 2008

School garden programs hope to change kids' relationship with food

Dina Maccabee:

One warm winter day at Ruus Elementary in south Hayward, Chef Tiffany sweeps a roomful of second-graders into their only cooking class of the year. Before long, they're shouting out the names of body parts that benefit from fresh veggies: "Eyes!" "Teeth!" "Heart!" And even if Swiss chard elicits a wary silence, the kids already know spinach from bok choy, and Chef Tiffany, known to adults as Tiffany Chenoweth, smoothly transitions from her talking points about leafy greens into the hands-on section of the class (after delivering a squirt of antibacterial gel onto the palms of each child). Meanwhile, out past the bustling blacktop, garden instructor Rachel Harris walks an ethnically diverse group of third graders through the concept of soil enrichment.

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March 14, 2008

Contraband candy = Skittles suspension


Contraband candy has led to big trouble for an eighth-grade honors student in Connecticut.

Michael Sheridan was stripped of his title as class vice president, barred from attending an honors student dinner and suspended for a day after buying a bag of Skittles from a classmate.

School spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo says the New Haven school system banned candy sales in 2003 as part of a district wide school wellness policy.

Michael's suspension has been reduced from three days to one, but he has not been reinstated as class vice president.

Joanne has more.

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The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Program


The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program helps Madison school kids understand where food really comes from.

Joe LaBarbera takes us on a journey that follows some of the students to the farm where some of it grows.

Doug Wubben is a project coordinator for Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch -- working to give kids their first real taste of life on the farm -- and a lesson in the first link of the food chain that eventually leads to their plate.

While this is about bringing the kids to the farm - sometimes they'll actually bring farmers into the classroom.

"This year, and also last year, we had a couple farmer educators come out and they did some workshops in the classroom," Teacher Marissa Carr-Flowers says.

These kids are learning how to plant seeds, grow food and spend a day away from their classroom. make no mistake -- they are still learning.

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February 25, 2008

When cheers turn to depression

Stan Grossfeld:

She just wanted six-pack abs. So in the summer of 2003, Dionne Passacantando, a 17-year-old high school cheerleader, gymnast, and vice president of her Allen (Texas) High School class, made a decision she regrets. She bought anabolic steroids from a boy on the school football team.

"Nobody frowned upon it," she says. "It was easier for me to get those than it probably was to buy beer."

But after injecting herself with Winstrol every other day for five weeks, she became suicidal.

"I was the last person in the world you'd think would use anabolic steroids," she says.

Her story is part of a much larger picture. The Mitchell Report, which detailed steroid use in major league baseball, noted that while steroid use among high schoolers seems to be declining, it is still estimated that 3-6 percent of students nationally have tried them. That means that, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of high school students are using.

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February 11, 2008

The Family Dinner Deconstructed

Alix Spiegel:

The ritual of a family dinner has been praised as an antidote to bad grades and bad habits in kids. But as researchers look closer at the family dinner, they raise the question: Is it the mere act of eating together that counts, or is it that strong families are already more likely to have a family dinner?

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January 20, 2008

Baltimore Battles Childhood Obesity

John Fritze:

Baltimore should improve access to fresh produce and recreational activities in low-income neighborhoods to stem childhood obesity, according to a City Council task force report released yesterday.

"This is more serious than smoking," said City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, who has overseen the issue in the council. "Let this be a movement: We're going to stop childhood obesity in the city of Baltimore."

The report recommends creating health zones in which city officials would work with schools, food stores and churches in three- to four-block areas to ensure that healthy food is available and that children have safe places to be physically active.

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January 15, 2008

Kids Count Update on Children's Well-Being

The Annie E. Casey Foundation:

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT online database has a whole new look and feel. Now featuring child well-being measures for the 50 largest U.S. cities, this powerful tool contains more than 100 indicators, including the most recent data available on education, employment and income, poverty, health, and youth risk factors for the United States as a whole, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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December 2, 2007

Putting on Weight for Football Glory

Jere Longman:

When the Desire Street Academy football team plays in a Louisiana state semifinal playoff game Friday night, the Lions will feature three starting linemen who weigh at least 300 pounds and two others who weigh 270 and 280 pounds, reflecting a trend in which high school players are increasingly reaching a size once seen almost exclusively among linemen in college and the N.F.L.

High school football rosters reveal weight issues that go beyond the nation’s overall increase in obesity rates among children. Two studies this year, one published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and another in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that weight problems among high school football players — especially linemen — far outpaced those of other male children and adolescents.

Now coaches and researchers fear that some young athletes may be endangering their health in an effort to reach massive proportions and attract the attention of college recruiters.

“The old saying was, ‘Wait till you get to college to make it a business,’” said Rusty Barrilleaux, the coach at Hammond High in southeastern Louisiana and a former offensive lineman at Louisiana State. “It’s still fun, but if you want to get to college, you have to get that size. The pressure is definitely on.”

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Lawmakers Consider School Food Limits

Kim Severson:

Federal lawmakers are considering the broadest effort ever to limit what children eat: a national ban on selling candy, sugary soda and salty, fatty food in school snack bars, vending machines and à la carte cafeteria lines.

Whether the measure, an amendment to the farm bill, can survive the convoluted politics that have bogged down that legislation in the Senate is one issue. Whether it can survive the battle among factions in the fight to improve school food is another.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has twice before introduced bills to deal with foods other than the standard school lunch, which is regulated by Department of Agriculture.

Several lawmakers and advocates for changes in school food believe that an amendment to the $286 billion farm bill is the best chance to get control of the mountain of high-calorie snacks and sodas available to school children. Even if the farm bill does not pass, Mr. Harkin and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is also sponsoring the amendment, vow to keep reintroducing it in other forms until it sticks.

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November 6, 2007

Fear and Allergies in the Lunchroom

Claudia Kalb:

About 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and their numbers are climbing. Allergists also say they’re seeing more children with multiple allergies. Why do allergies appear to be on the rise? One of the most intriguing theories, dubbed the “hygiene hypothesis,” is that we’ve all become too clean. The immune system is designed to battle dangerous foreign invaders like parasites and viruses and infections. But clean water, antibiotics and vaccines have eliminated some of our most toxic challenges. Research even posits that kids born by Caesarean section, which have risen 40 percent in the last decade, could be at higher risk for allergies, perhaps because they were never exposed to healthy bacteria in their mothers’ birth canals.

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September 22, 2007

Madison schools' lunch period isn't what it used to be

Andy Hall:

And somehow, in a time window one third the size that many adults take for lunch, 215 young children crowd around picnic-style tables, consume chicken nuggets — or whatever they brought from home — and hustle outside to play.

Squeezed by tight school budgets, the federal No Child Left Behind law and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction rules on instructional time, the school lunch period isn't what it used to be in many school districts.

ver the years," said Frank Kelly, food services director of the Madison School District, who estimates that overall, school lunch periods in the district have been trimmed about 10 minutes over the past 10 years.

"I don't think people are going to accept anything less than this."

In fact, in response to complaints from parents four years ago, Madison officials eased the lunch crunch a bit for elementary students by using the last five minutes of the class period before lunch to move students to the cafeteria.

There was talk four years ago of expanding the elementary lunch period to 35 minutes. But the idea was dropped after officials estimated it might cost more than $2 million to pay teachers and lunch supervisors.

"We don't have much flexibility in extending that," said Sue Abplanalp, an assistant superintendent who oversees Madison's elementary schools.

While DPI leaves it up to local officials to determine the length of lunch periods, Madison educators say they believe they attain a decent compromise by giving:

•Elementary students 20 minutes.

•Middle school students 30 to 34 minutes.

•High school students about 35 minutes (except at West High School, where most students get 55 minutes under a plan initiated last year).

Those schedules are typical of what's found around Wisconsin, said Kelly, who has worked in food service for 31 years.

"For most of our people, it works very well," Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater said.

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September 20, 2007

Sugar Finds Its Way Back to the School Cafeteria

Andrew Martin:

STUNG by harsh publicity about fat kids and threatened with lawsuits, the nation’s three largest beverage companies finally got some love last year when they voluntarily agreed to remove sugary drinks from schools.

In the place of soda and sugar-laden beverages, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes agreed that only water, low-fat milk and 100 percent juice would be offered in elementary and middle schools. In high schools, sports drinks, light juices and diet drinks would also be allowed.

The announcement was brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a collaboration of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, and it was widely praised. Former President Bill Clinton, who attended the press conference, called the decision “courageous.”

“Shrewd” was probably a better word.

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September 6, 2007

The School Cafeteria, on a Diet

Andrew Martin:

As students return to school this week, some are finding an unusual entry on the list of class rules: no cupcakes.

School districts across the country have been taking steps to make food in schools healthier because of new federal guidelines and awareness that a growing number of children are overweight.

In California, deep fryers have been banned, so chicken nuggets and fries are now baked. Sweet tea is off the menu in one Alabama school. In New Jersey, 20-ounce sports drinks have been cut back to 12 ounces.

Food and beverage companies have scrambled to offer healthier alternatives in school cafeterias and vending machines, and some of the changes have been met with a shrug by students. The whole-wheat chocolate-chip cookies? “Surprisingly, the kids have kind of embraced them,” said Laura Jacobo, director of food services at Woodlake Union schools in California.

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May 14, 2007

Offered healthy food by servers, school kids take the bait.

Sally Squires:

You know how hard it can be to say no.

But our tendency to accept what we're offered may have positive value when it comes to encouraging children to choose — and eat — healthier food at school. A new report suggests that there's a simple, low-cost approach: Just offer it to them.

That's the conclusion of a pilot program in Guilford, Conn., where school cafeteria servers were trained to ask elementary school students, "Would you like fruit or juice with your lunch?" Ninety percent of the children said yes. What's more, 80% then consumed the fruit or juice that they put on their trays.

Compare those numbers with students at a nearby school who also participated in the study. At lunch, the same fruit and juice was available, but it wasn't personally offered to the kids. The difference? Just 60% of these students reached for fruit or juice on their own.

These findings "have pretty significant implications," says the pilot program's designer, Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. They suggest, she says, that if the National School Lunch Program were to modify its regulations and had servers actually encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables, their consumption might increase.

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March 12, 2007

A Note on Wellness & PE

Via a reader's email message:

our school banned all vending machines 1 1/2 yrs. ago. Did it help? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The kids are now bringing sodas and candy in their back packs and eat it at lunch time. They do not eat in the lunchroom. Elementary students have snack time around 9:30 to 10:30 each day depending on what grade you are in. They have 30 min. What do they eat? They bring candy, chips, sweetened tea, sodas and kool aid bursts. The school lost money and yet the kids are still eating poorly.

What could be done?

Ban the sodas and snacks from home and take away the snack time and replace it with 30 min. of instruction time. or better yet, replace it with 30 more min. of PE time.

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January 3, 2007

A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School

Gina Kolata:

James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.

Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?

He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing.

But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

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December 18, 2006

Why Not Walk to School Today?

Brian Lee and Jared Cunningham:

By applying GIS analysis, University of Kentucky undergraduate landscape architecture students have found ways to make it safer and easier for children to walk to school. Concerns with the growing childhood obesity epidemic, increased costs in driving children to school, and fostering the perception that it is more normal to drive rather than to walk to destinations have made walking to school an issue. With ArcView 9.1 and the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension, these students identified dangerous walking and bicycling areas, proposed design safety solutions, and evaluated alternatives for improving adverse conditions.

The immediate safety, as well as the long-term health, of children walking to and from schools has become an important topic of discussion in communities. The doubling of the childhood obesity rate over the past 30 years has raised concerns about short- and long-term health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that children and adolescents frequently participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, preferably on a daily basis. A short recess period during school does not provide enough physical activity for a growing child. One way to increase physical activity is to incorporate it into the child's daily school commute. However, neighborhoods have often been designed with the automobile exclusively in mind. Consequently, children walking or bicycling to school is not always a safe alternative to the car or school bus.

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November 24, 2006

Oregon School Cafeteria Makes It from Scratch

Jane Greenalgh:

Thanksgiving is a time to savor good food, something you don't expect to find in a school cafeteria. In fact, most schools across the country serve reheated, premade food that is trucked in from central kitchens. Daily offerings are often uninspiring: chicken sticks, macaroni and cheese, and pizza.

But there is a move in some parts of the country to bring real cooking back to school kitchens. Last year, Abernathy Elementary School in Portland, Ore., bought a second-hand stove and a big mixer and started cooking all its food from scratch.

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September 20, 2006

Markets in everything: unhealthy school dinners

New Economist:

he parents claim they are taking action because pupils are turning up their noses at what they describe as "overpriced, low-fat rubbish".

Four of them are using a supermarket trolley to make daily runs with fish and chips, pies, burgers, sandwiches and fizzy drinks from local takeaways.

Staff at Rawmarsh Comprehensive School, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have called in environmental health and education officials. They are looking into whether the women are allowed to sell food without an operating licence and whether they are covered by food hygiene regulations.

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September 16, 2006

The End of Cupcake Days

Eric Zorn:

There were some two dozen of us in the 4th grade classroom at parent orientation night this week, and not one of us looked the least bit disappointed when the teacher, Mrs. Rand, announced "absolutely no cupcakes this year!"

She'd done the math. Naturally. And she figured that if every child had a little birthday party -- where a parent brings in treats, drinks, maybe goodie bags -- she'd lose roughly 10 hours of total classroom instruction time over the course of the year.

Parents have done the math too. The one responsible for buying the treats (usually the mother and usually cupcakes) and making sure they get to school at the right time and that kids with dietary restrictions are provided with edible options also loses an hour or so.

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September 11, 2006

Mississippi Free School Fruit Pilot Program


Results of a pilot program in Mississippi hints that distributing apples, oranges and other fresh fruit free of charge at school may be an effective part of a comprehensive program aimed at improving students' eating habits.

During the 2004-2005 school year as part of the Mississippi Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, 25 secondary schools gave out free fresh fruit and vegetables during the school day and provided nutrition education to promote and support the program.

Initial results based on 851 participating students in grades 5, 8, and 10 from 5 schools suggest that the program significantly increased the variety of fruit and vegetables tried by the students in all three grades.

The program appeared to be most effective among students in grades 8 and 10, report Doris J. Schneider from the Child Nutrition Program, Mississippi Department of Education and colleagues in the current issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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September 10, 2006

"Candy isn't Dandy in Madison Schools"

Susan Lampert Smith:

Expect details of the Madison School District plan in the coming week. Here's what my sticky fingers were able to pry out of Mary Gulbrandsen, student services director:

Soda pop has already vanished from Madison school vending machines. Candy is no longer sold in school, and in two years, no school group will be allowed to sell candy for fundraising.

(Horde your hockey team candy bars - soon you can sell them on eBay as collectors' items!)

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September 8, 2006

Schools Find Free Veggies a Hard Sell

Mike Stobbe:

Bad news - but probably no surprise to parents - when it comes to young children and vegetables: A government study showed fifth-graders became less willing to try vegetables and fruits when more were offered as free school snacks.

Older kids in the same study upped the amount of fruit they ate, but there was no change in their vegetable consumption.

The study results are somewhat disappointing for champions of getting more fresh produce into school lunchrooms.

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September 1, 2006


Chocolate & Zucchini:

Cantine is French for school cafeteria*, and it is hard to find a grown-up that doesn't have a story or two to recount about his cantine days. These memories are often a mix of the bitter (the food was less than stellar, and the atmosphere was one of constant struggle for social survival) and the sweet (petit-suisse fights were fun, and if you knew what strings to pull, you could lay your hands on an extra serving of fries -- du rab de frites), but in both cases, they are an integral part of how personalities and palates were formed.

A book called Cantines came out yesterday in France, based on these very premises. Food writers Sébastien Demorand and Emmanuel Rubin have selected sixty dishes that used to be were served, with varying degrees of gastronomic success, at school cafeterias when we were kids -- from friand au fromage (a puff pastry envelope with a creamy cheese filling) to petit salé aux lentilles (salted pork and lentils), by way of macédoine de légumes (a mayo-laden salad of peas, potatoes, and carrots) and hachis parmentier (a sort of shepherd's pie).

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August 31, 2006

Millions on The Breakfast Table

Roger Thurow:

Twenty-nine million children, most from low-income families, eat federally funded lunch in school. But only nine million eat school breakfast. To federal and state officials, that gap is a big reason for the persistence of childhood hunger in America.

To entrepreneur Gary Davis, it's also a business opportunity. Those 20 million unserved breakfasts translate into nearly $2 billion in federal money that could be claimed from school-feeding programs, but has been left on the table each year. In the summer of 2004 Mr. Davis wondered: What if he could get all the children who eat lunch in school to eat breakfast, too?

His answer: a grab-and-go meal of cereal, crackers and fruit juice, in small boxes that could be distributed on buses, in the cafeteria or in the first-period classroom. He launched his product at the beginning of last school year, and by the end, he says he was selling three million of them a month.

Long-neglected, school breakfast is becoming a sought-after market for business. At the same time, that business is driving participation in an underused government social program. Earlier this month, Kellogg Co. began selling its own breakfast-in-a-box to schools, which includes cereal, a Pop-Tart or graham crackers, and juice. Tyson Foods Inc. is adapting its popular lunchtime chicken nuggets and patties into smaller sizes for breakfast. Scores of other companies also are pitching breakfast items to schools.

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August 30, 2006

A Better Breakfast Can Boost a Child's Brainpower

Allison Aubrey

Attention, children: Do not skip breakfast -- or your grades could pay a price.

Evidence suggests that eating breakfast really does help kids learn. After fasting all night, a developing body (and brain) needs a fresh supply of glucose -- or blood sugar. That's the brain's basic fuel.

"Without glucose," explains Terrill Bravender, professor of pediatrics at Duke University, "our brain simply doesn't operate as well. People have difficulty understanding new information, [they have a] problem with visual and spatial understanding, and they don't remember things as well."

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August 28, 2006

No More Mystery Meat

Stacy Finz:

Schools weren't always citadels of health. For years, they were more like junk food coliseums. Now, as this school year begins, cafeteria menus are being scrutinized as closely as the curriculum in preparation for compliance with recently passed legislation to better students' diets. School officials from Santa Clara to Sonoma counties are planning inventive programs to rid their halls of high-calorie and fatty foods.

Profile of Ann Cooper, Berkeley school nutrition director.

But for four people in the Bay Area, changing the way kids eat has become their life's mission.

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August 26, 2006

PCRM: A Veggie Laden Lunch Line

Maria Glod:

This week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a District-based group that promotes a vegan diet (one that excludes all animal products) and healthful, low-fat food options for children, awarded the Fairfax County school system an A in its School Lunch Report Card. None of the other 17 large U.S. school systems the group surveyed scored as high.

"Everybody is responsive to the childhood obesity epidemic, but Fairfax really pulled out all the stops," said Jeanne Stuart McVey, a spokeswoman for the group.

The Montgomery County schools, the only other local system in the report card, received a B.

Details here.

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August 23, 2006

Dodging Land Mines at the School Lunch Table

Karen Batka:

I puttered around the kitchen as Grace munched on her calcium-added Goldfish and worked on long division. "Mom, what does high fat content mean?" she asked.

"Why?" I asked, choosing to answer a question with a question.

"Paige said that Lunchables aren't healthy because they have a high fat content." Once again, reality refused to cooperate with my script. I'd now lived in California long enough to witness the witch hunt mentality of the nutrition evangelists. But I had failed to consider that this school of thought had already penetrated the minds of young children.

"Well what does Paige bring for lunch?" I asked. It was time to wave the white flag of surrender.

"She brings Sushi or veggie wraps, yogurt or fruit and vitamin water."

See also Kidchow - some fabulous items on their menu [].

August 20, 2006

Improving School Food

Lisa Belkin:

By any health measure, today’s children are in crisis. Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, and increasing numbers of children are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which, until a few years ago, was a condition seen almost only in adults. The obesity rate of adolescents has tripled since 1980 and shows no sign of slowing down. Today’s children have the dubious honor of belonging to the first cohort in history that may have a lower life expectancy than their parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that 30 to 40 percent of today’s children will have diabetes in their lifetimes if current trends continue.

The only good news is that as these stark statistics have piled up, so have the resources being spent to improve school food. Throw a dart at a map and you will find a school district scrambling to fill its students with things that are low fat and high fiber.

But there is one big shadow over all this healthy enthusiasm: no one can prove that it works. For all the menus being defatted, salad bars made organic and vending machines being banned, no one can prove that changes in school lunches will make our children lose weight. True, studies show that students who exercise more and have healthier diets learn better and fidget less, and that alone would be a worthwhile goal. But if the main reason for overhauling the cafeteria is to reverse the epidemic of obesity and the lifelong health problems that result, then shouldn’t we be able to prove we are doing what we set out to do?

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August 1, 2006

"Big Mother & Kids Lunches"


While programs like these have a solid premise, we envision kids making friends for more than just social reasons as middle-school cafeterias turn into fast-paced trading blocks to circumvent the system as connector children smuggle in junk food from the outside world. Or maybe we're just letting our imaginations get away with ourselves again.

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July 31, 2006

The Complex Relationship Between Nature, Nurture, and Intelligence

After the Bell Curve
David L. Kirp
The New York Times

When it comes to explaining the roots of intelligence, the fight between partisans of the gene and partisans of the environment is ancient and fierce. Each side challenges the other’s intellectual bona fides and political agendas. What is at stake is not just the definition of good science but also the meaning of the just society. The nurture crowd is predisposed to revive the War on Poverty, while the hereditarians typically embrace a Social Darwinist perspective.

A century’s worth of quantitative-genetics literature concludes that a person’s I.Q. is remarkably stable and that about three-quarters of I.Q. differences between individuals are attributable to heredity. This is how I.Q. is widely understood — as being mainly “in the genes” — and that understanding has been used as a rationale for doing nothing about seemingly intractable social problems like the black-white school-achievement gap and the widening income disparity. If nature disposes, the argument goes, there is little to be gained by intervening. In their 1994 best seller, “The Bell Curve,” Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray relied on this research to argue that the United States is a genetic meritocracy and to urge an end to affirmative action. Since there is no way to significantly boost I.Q., prominent geneticists like Arthur Jensen of Berkeley have contended, compensatory education is a bad bet.

But what if the supposed opposition between heredity and environment is altogether misleading? A new generation of studies shows that genes and environment don’t occupy separate spheres — that much of what is labeled “hereditary” becomes meaningful only in the context of experience. “It doesn’t really matter whether the heritability of I.Q. is this particular figure or that one,” says Sir Michael Rutter of the University of London. “Changing the environment can still make an enormous difference.” If heredity defines the limits of intelligence, the research shows, experience largely determines whether those limits will be reached. And if this is so, the prospects for remedying social inequalities may be better than we thought.

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July 18, 2006

Madison School Board Wellness Presentation / Discussion

Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting included a discussion of the proposed Nutrition Policy. 84MB Video | 13MB MP3 Audio.

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June 22, 2006

Santa Clara district eases junk food ban

Becky Bartindale:

The all-out junk food ban proposed earlier this year in the Santa Clara Unified School District has gone through a process not unlike what Goldilocks experienced when she visited the three bears' house and saw three bowls of porridge on the table.

The first proposal -- which banned unhealthy food sold or given away on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- was seen by some as extreme. Others thought a reworked version was lax. Now, district officials hope, they have come up with something that is just right: a ban on selling or giving away unhealthy foods during the school day, while encouraging organizations to choose healthy options for half the food and drinks at after-school events.

``Nothing is ever perfect,'' said board member Teresa O'Neill, a nutrition committee member who would have liked a stricter policy. ``This is the reality.''

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June 6, 2006

Schools Go Local for Better Food

The NewsHour:

While most efforts to encourage better health in schools focus on removing fat and sugar from the cafeteria and by offering a second vegetable with each meal, there are a growing number of school districts that have turned to local farms for a solution.

By using local farms, schools hope to offer their students fresher food that tastes better while financially supporting small businesses in their communities.

"Locally grown food is fresher and tastier," said Anupama Joshi of the National Farm to School Network, which helps set up the farm-supply programs.

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May 30, 2006

Well-Intentioned Food Police May Create Havoc With Children's Diets

Harriet Brown:

Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.

So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.

Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.

Unlike the earlier "mommy wars" or the "war on drugs," which centered around simpler black-and-white divides, the 21st-century food wars are fuzzier, though the feelings run just as deep.

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May 22, 2006

2006 / 2007 MMSD Food Service Budget Discussion

28 minute video excerpt of this evening's discussion of the MMSD's food service budget (the food service budget is evidently supposed to break even, but the operating budget has apparently been subsidizing it by several hundred thousand dollars annually).
This sort of excellent citizen oversite is essential to any publicly financed organization, particularly one that plans to spend $332M in taxpayer funds next year and hopes to pass referenda in the near future.

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin made a similar case today when he discussed our fair city's water problems:

It's funny how progressives forget their history and the reason for doing things. The idea is to have a citizen board, not a board with public employees. That is part of the checks and balances. In fact the progressive left in Madison went though considerable time over the years gradually removing city staff from committees so they would not dominate and squelch the citizens who are more likely to be 'whistleblowers.'
In the water example, a citizen spent years chasing this issue, finally getting the attention of the traditional media and the politicians.

A number of board members have been asking many questions (the video clip will give you a nice overview of who is asking the questions and what the responses are). You can check the action out here (Each "Tab" is a question to the Administration, with their response"). For example, we learn in tab 11 2 Page PDF that the district spent a net (after 200K in gate receipts and 450K in student fees) $1,433,603 on athletics in 2005/2006 and plans to spend a net $1,803,286 in 2006/2007, a 25% increase. The overall budget will grow by more than 3%.

This is quite a change from past years, and provides some hope for the future.

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May 19, 2006

Let them Eat Kale

The Economist:

Plans to improve school meals are causing havoc

JUST over a year ago, Jamie Oliver, a camera-friendly chef, called for a revolution in school kitchens. In a television series, he chronicled the decline in school lunches and showed that junk food-addicted children could be taught to tuck into what he calls “pukka nosh”. It proved a traumatic experience for the young gourmands, some of whom demonstrated for the return of chips and burgers. Mr Oliver's antics have also tweaked the government, upset some dinner ladies and shaken the catering market.

“Jamie's School Dinners” galvanised parents, who demanded that schools ditch grotesque inventions such as the Turkey Twizzler and adopt wholesome fare such as shepherd's pie and lentil soup. Worried about a looming general election, the government hastily responded to Mr Oliver's demands. Ruth Kelly, who was then the education secretary, promised to ban junk food in schools and asked a panel of experts to suggest nutritional guidelines.

The panel recommended that schools serve more freshly-cooked food containing less fat, sugar and salt. A sub-committee suggested tougher rules for vending machines and food served at breakfast and after-school clubs. The government's own targets are expected to be broadly in line with those of the panel.

Pressure from parents and the media is already changing school meals, not always in good ways. One effect is that the number of pupils eating school lunches has declined. The Local Authority Caterers' Association reports that the number of meals served has declined by 12.5% since last year, rendering some contracts unsustainable. It blames Mr Oliver's scare tactics for the exodus. More worryingly, some dinner ladies are threatening to strike. They complain that they are being asked to peel mountains of carrots and marinate meat to meet the demand for fresh food. But their schedule still assumes they just open packets and heat up the contents.

The government promised councils and schools an extra £280m over three years, but the providers, as well as the expert panel, say it is not enough. Last year some private contractors were shamed into pushing up standards. Now they say the money is insufficient to sustain the improvements. One caterer, Sodexho, threatened last month to put what the catering industry calls “shaped food products” (such as Fish Octopus) back on menus in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire if more cash was not forthcoming. The councils paid up. Other contractors are negotiating tougher deals. Initial Catering, for example, is demanding risk-sharing clauses, which trigger fines if the number of meals falls below an agreed level.

Some councils are struggling to attract any bids for catering contracts beginning in the autumn. Sheffield City Council has received one bid to run its school meals service, while Wokingham District Council had just two. Bracknell Forest Council has received no bids. Kent County Council, which broke up a single contract covering its 405 schools into 22 clusters with the objective of encouraging smaller players, received final bids for contracts covering just 70 schools. It is now entering another round of contract negotiations.

The 14 councils in England that have no school kitchens and simply give sandwiches to children who are entitled to free school meals are worst off. They are expected to provide hot food by 2008. One local authority describes the task as “enormous”; another says it is impossible.

Amid general upheaval, however, some companies are flourishing. Ashlyns Organic farm, in Essex, is training school cooks who now need to do more than heat up processed food. Simon Owen, a chef, says that he teaches them basic skills such as how to chop an onion. The farm already supplies and advises 25 Essex schools that run their own kitchens and is signing new contracts with schools in London.

Two weeks ago Mr Oliver won an award for his television series and again denounced the government's inertia on school meals. He has proved a good demagogue. But his revolution, like many others, has turned out to be a messy affair.

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May 16, 2006

Tipping the Scales


One in five Wisconsin children are overweight or obese. That number jumps to 1 in 4 when you look at Wisconsin’s high schools. Perhaps more disturbing, almost half of those overweight kids here in Wisconsin, are at risk for developing Type II Diabetes or Coronary Artery Disease.

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May 11, 2006

Cut Soda Demand with Education

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The most effective way to improve the diets of young people is to educate them to make healthful choices.

That's worth remembering in the aftermath of last week's announcement that sugared sodas will be banned from U.S. schools by the 2009-2010 school year.

The ban, voluntarily agreed to by the nation's largest beverage distributors, addresses the public health problems that have accompanied the soaring consumption of sodas in the past generation.

The WiSJ is correct - education is key. I imagine that there will be "underground" soda suppliers once these changes are implemented.

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May 4, 2006

Notes from Middleton High School on the Sugar Water Ban

Doug Erickson:

By lunch period Wednesday, most students at Middleton High School had heard the big news - the nation's largest beverage distributors had voluntarily agreed to halt nearly all soda sales to schools.

There was disagreement over whether this was:

A.) A great day in public education.

B.) A sinister plot to rob youth of their sugar birthright

C.) No big deal.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:04 AM | Comments (6) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 3, 2006

Most Soda Sales in Schools to End

Samantha Gross:

The nation's largest beverage distributors have agreed to halt nearly all soda sales to public schools, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Under the agreement, the companies have agreed to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools, said Jay Carson, a spokesman for former President Bill Clinton. Diet sodas would be sold only to high schools.

American Beverage Association

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April 18, 2006

Food Policy and Physical Education

To those concerned about the success of the Madison Schools,

I am writing to express my support for the positive changes proposed by the district with respect to food policy. It is exciting that the district has been proactive in including students, parents, health providers, educators, and policy makers. As a pediatrician working with childhood obesity and childhood diabetes, I believe our schools do- and can have an even more positive influence- on the health of our children. 

We are all struggling with the epidemic of childhood obesity, its costs, ramifications, and its effect on children and their families. We need to address this problem though our families, through our communities, and definitely through our schools. We continue to "leave many children behind" when it comes to healthy nutrition and physical activity. The State of California has shown that children with greater fitness levels, also have greater academic levels. Supporting an environment for achieving this is imperative for our children.

Healthy food choices should always be offered even if it means different fund raising methods in our schools including removing soda, and other unhealthy food practices.  It is time for the Board to look carefully at how they can help be part of the solution regarding this problem and the long-term health of our students. 

I hope that the board will also consider a minimum standard of physical activity for each student. The Surgeon General has called for 60 minutes of physical activity per day for children, (of which much could come through school),  while in Canada, the recommendation for Healthy Active Living is 90 minutes of exercise (activity) per day.
This week, on a national level, a bipartisan coalition has introduced the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act to improve students' eating habits and children's overall health. The legislation would update outdated federal nutrition standards for snack foods sold in school cafeterias alongside regular school meals and would apply those standards everywhere on school grounds, including in vending machines and school stores.

Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI) sponsored the measure. "Many American kids are at school for two meals a day," said Harkin. "But instead of a nutritious school breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, they are enticed to eat Cheetos and a Snickers bar from the vending machines in the hallway. Junk food sales in schools are out of control.  It undercuts our investment in school meal programs, and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease." According to the release, current federal regulations limiting the sale of junk food in schools are narrow and have not been updated in almost 30 years. And although a narrow category of junk foods cannot be sold in certain areas of schools, even those items can be sold anywhere else on-campus, at any time.

I realize there are many issues facing the board related to budget, academic curriculum, and overcrowding. I hope you will consider the food policy on May 1st and physical activity issues in the future with the same convictions.  Thank you for considering.

Aaron Carrel

Aaron Carrel, MD
University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital
Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Fitness

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Coke's CEO on Soda in Schools

Chad Terhune:

WSJ: How well is the company responding to the obesity issue?

Mr. Isdell: We are in what I would call the bull's-eye of public opinion with regard to calorie consumption. It's something I inherited and something as an industry we have not been able to rebut effectively at this point in time. It's something we are working diligently on as an industry.... We really need to widen the debate. For example, Diet Coke, a zero-calorie beverage, is actually in the obesity debate because there has been a demonization of carbonated soft drinks. But if it's really about obesity, why would you not want people to drink a diet soft drink?

WSJ: Why should any regular sodas be sold in middle or high schools?

Mr. Isdell: It's high schools where the current policy we have is 50% noncarbonated drinks. In the middle schools [full-calorie sodas are sold from vending machines] only after school [according to an industrywide agreement.]

I saw this interesting piece on a guy in California who came out very strongly and said, "Why am I allowed to vote and I can own a gun, but I can't choose my own soft drink?" I think when you reach high school, you do have a level of sophistication and you can be allowed to choose what you wish.... There are some schools where some kids are making good money bootlegging soft drinks in and selling them to students.... I think that is not all bad for us. After all, every kid likes being rebellious.

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April 9, 2006

Lawmakers Try to Expel Junk Food From Schools


Trying to shrink the growing waistlines of children, lawmakers want to expel soda, candy bars, chips and other junk food from the nation's schools.

Dangerous weight is on the rise in kids. This week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of obese and overweight kids has climbed to 18 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls. Four years ago, the number was 14 percent.

Lawmakers blame high-fat, high-sugar snacks that compete with nutritious meals in schools.
"Junk food sales in schools are out of control," Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said Thursday. "It undercuts our investment in school meal programs and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease."

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April 6, 2006

Bill Strikes at Low-Nutrition Foods in School

Marian Burros:

Under the bill, an amendment to the National School Lunch Act, high nutritional standards would be required of all food sold on school premises. That means not just in cafeterias but in vending machines, school stores and snack bars as well, even at fund-raising events.

The measure, which has strong bipartisan support in both houses, would do on a national level what many school districts have been trying to do for years: require that the schools set an example by providing only healthful food and so perhaps reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, has watched what goes on in the school her two teenage sons attend.

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April 5, 2006

Wellness Initiatives

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

Black pedometer in hand, Greendale Middle School Spanish teacher Barb Rampolla hits the track behind her school to do three or four laps a few times a week.

Last summer, she joined an area fitness center. Over Christmas vacation, she abstained from her favorite holiday treats - and won a contest for not gaining any weight over winter break.

Fruits and vegetables are now a regular part of her diet. She's feeling better, too.

"And I have to say that my clothes fit better," said Rampolla, 58. "And for a woman, that's really good."

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March 29, 2006

MMSD Solicits Comments on Food Policy

Please share your opinion on the MMSD's proposed food policy at you can agree/disagree and comment on each section of the policy as well as see it. This is especially important because the policy has been changed since the final draft came out of Student Senate and thus bans pretty much all soda and candy/baked goods sales in the schools.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:28 PM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 27, 2006

Madison Schools' Proposed Comprehensive Food Policy

Madison Metropolitian School District News Release:

Community asked for feedback on proposals, Board will begin to consider next month

As the next step in developing a Madison School District comprehensive food policy, recommendations are being released today by a student work group for consideration by the Board of Education.

There's been quite a bit of discussion on this topic here.

This policy could influence which foods are served in school breakfast and lunch programs, school "potlucks" and other classroom celebrations; vending machine sales and other school fundraising activities; and the locations in the school in which food is eaten.

Included in the proposals are separate sets of recommendations from
the MMSD Student Senate and the district's management team.

The school district has placed on its Web site a questionnaire that is
designed to provide community feedback on the recommendations
contained in the draft food policy. See "Comprehensive Food Policy" at
. All related food policy documents are available
here also.

In addition, citizens will have opportunities to address the Board of
Education members at Board meetings or through the "comments" portion
of the district Web site in the coming weeks before the Board makes
any final decisions. The Board is first scheduled to consider the
recommendations on April 24.

The Need

The Madison Metropolitan School District is committed to developing a
comprehensive food policy that promotes the health of students,
through a safe and healthy food environment and high quality lunches
and food services, and that addresses the sale of foods for

1. Health of Students: Overweight and obesity rates have doubled in
children and tripled in teens over the two decades. Currently, 16.5%
of American children are obese.

While obesity is a multi-factored problem, over-consumption of soft
drinks and foods with minimal nutritional value is part of the
problem. While low levels of physical activity are also an important
part of the problem, children are clearly eating more calories now
than in the past.

2. Safe and Healthy Environment: MMSD has a duty to maintain a safe
and healthy environment for its students and staff by minimizing the
risks related to poor food preparation and of exposure to allergens,
particularly nuts and peanuts.

3. School Lunch/Food Services: In all grades, the overriding goal of
the comprehensive food policy is to improve the nutritional quality of
foods available to children by ensuring that no foods or beverages
available at school contradict the current nutritional

4. Fund-raising: Competitive foods are any foods sold in competition
with the school lunch program. In the MMSD, competitive foods include
items that are sold by school stores, in vending machines, or as part
of fund-raising activities.

The district is committed to providing the most nutritious food
possible to our students during the school day.

The Process

At the start of this school year, a small group of high school
students who are members of the MMSD Student Senate expressed an
interest in working intensively on developing recommendations for a
comprehensive food policy. Over the last four months, they have
learned a great deal about health, nutrition and Food Services
operations in schools.

In addition to the student work, several focus groups have been held
to gather parent, community and school staff input.

The student work group then developed a food policy and presented
their recommendations to the Student Senate and to the district
management team. The final recommendations are in the draft food
policy that is being forwarded to the Board of Education for

The Student Senate and the district management team chose to offer
their own set of recommendations, some of which are the same and some
of which differ from the work group's set.

The Recommendations

There are 19 recommendations in all, grouped into five categories:
Nutrition, Sales, Food Safety, Environment, and Consumption. They
would apply to school breakfast/lunch programs, vending machines,
school stores, school sponsored fund-raising activities, and classroom

The proposals would not apply to booster club fund-raising or the
fund-raising of school-sanctioned clubs that occurs more than 30
minutes outside of school hours.

Agreement Of the 19 recommendations, the student work group, the
Student Senate and the district management team agreed in full on 11.
For details, see the table "Comprehensive Food Policy --
Recommendations by Student Work Group, Student Senate and Management

In short, the agreed upon recommendations are:

1A. Meals served by MMSD Food Services comply with or exceed all USDA

1B. Maximum fat and saturated fat percentages are established for all
"a la carte" items available during school breakfast/lunch programs or
that are served to students during the school day.

3A1. For all school activities held during school hours which include
the preparation of food, and the consumption of that food by students
(e.g. pot lucks or theme meals), the steps below (4 -- 6) must be
observed. These steps are also strongly recommended for staff-only
activities (e.g. teacher appreciation lunches).

3A2. The MMSD School Potluck Food Safety pamphlet will be distributed
to all who will prepare the food and that food must be prepared in
accordance with the pamphlet.

3A3. A comprehensive list of ingredients for each dish must be placed
in close proximity to the dish and the list must also identify the
name of one person who participated in the making of the dish and
his/her contact information.

3A4. Each school will have at least one designated person who has
completed food safety training. That person will be responsible for
ensuring that the food served at school events, whether prepared at
home or school, is prepared and served in accordance with the School
Potluck Food Safety guidelines.

3B. MMSD Food Services will not provide peanuts or nut products in
elementary school lunches after the 2005-06 school year. This includes
peanut butter sandwiches.

4A. Food will not be consumed on or over carpets or rugs.

4B. School staff are encouraged to limit consumption of food in

5A. When permitted by classroom teachers or other supervising adults,
students may eat their own food. It is each student's responsibility
to clean up after him/herself.

5B. All students receiving their breakfast from MMSD Food Services and
eating it in their school building will be permitted at least 10
minutes in which to eat. All MMSD schools shall have lunch periods of
at least 30 minutes.

Differences The Student Senate and the district management team did
not agree in full on eight of the student work group recommendations.
These recommendations are in three distinct areas: vending sales,
candy and snack sales, and food safety.

Vending sales -- The student work group and the management team
recommend beverage vending at middle and high schools of only water,
milk, 100% fruit juices without sweeteners or caffeine, and sports
beverages without caffeine or a specified level of sweetener.

The Student Senate proposes no restrictions on beverages offered at
high schools.

Candy and snack sales --
(2B1) The student work group and the management team recommend candy
will not be given or sold to students nor offered for sale at school
or to the community by the school during the school day.

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would not apply to high
school students.

(2B2) The student work group and the management team recommend no food
will be sold from vending machines to students.

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would apply only during
the school day or within 30 minutes of the school day.

Food Safety -- The only significant disagreement of the three
recommendations is on (3E). The student work group and the management
team recommend food will not be used in classrooms as a manipulative
or reward for learning (e.g. small candies used in math class) or in
activities that involve students handling and possibly eating the food

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would not apply to high
school students.

To see the complete recommendations, go to the table "Comprehensive
Food Policy -- Recommendations by Student Work Group, Student Senate
and Management Team".

Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

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March 23, 2006

Nutrtitional Battle Lines Form at Schools

Brenda Ingersoll:

Mindful of the obesity epidemic and nutritional goals, the Madison School District is thinking of banning soda sales in its high schools, and candy in elementary and middle schools.

In the DeForest School District, a committee is mulling giving students more whole- wheat bread and switching to lower-fat milk.

In Mount Horeb, a similar "wellness" committee is pondering phasing out the chips and candy bars available in vending machines, and replacing them with fresh fruit and granola bars.

And Oregon is considering offering raw carrots, broccoli and celery daily, instead of a few times a week.

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March 21, 2006

Madison Schools' Potential Food Policy Update


A new controversial, food policy proposal in the Madison Metropolitan School District could take food out of children's mouths and funding for clubs, activities and supplies.

The district's Board of Education will consider district-wide recommendations on food policy within the next few days that might include a ban on candy, soda and snack food sales during school hours, according to the student representatives to the board.

The administrator writing the final recommendations refused to reveal if a ban will be part of the proposed policy, WISC-TV reported.
Supporters of the proposal argue that the food policy is to promote healthy eating and food safety.

A ban would impact food sales in school cafeterias and vending machines, as well as fundraisers sponsored by school clubs and extracurricular activities.

UPDATE: Bill Novak has more:
The school sale of junk food, candy and sugar-filled soft drinks could be affected by food policy changes to be considered by the Madison School Board.

The School Board is expected to consider new food policy recommendations within the week.

Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman Ken Syke confirmed the food policy is on the table but wouldn't release details on what recommendations are in the new report.

"It's a comprehensive food policy, and many different groups weighed in on it," Syke said. "Does it ban junk food? I can't say."

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March 13, 2006

Some schools, including Sherman, will get fresh fruit & vegetables

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster issued the following press release:

Students will crunch on carrots or cauliflower, or whip up a fruit smoothie while learning the importance of eating fresh produce in 25 schools throughout the state, thanks to a federal grant that brings Wisconsin into the successful U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

"This grant allows us to offer more fresh produce to all students as a supplement to the school breakfast and school lunch programs," said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. "Many schools will offer the fresh fruits and vegetables at times during the day when children would otherwise be hungry, or might need an energy boost to improve their attention in the classroom. We know that hungry children can't learn, so this program supports our efforts to boost achievement for all students and close the achievement gap."

The following schools received the grants:

Abbotsford Elementary School, Abbotsford School District — $ 23,896
Bluff View Intermediate School, Prairie du Chien School District — $ 33,318
Butte de Morts Elementary School, Menasha School District — $ 27,288
Edward Bain School of Language and Art, Kenosha School District — $ 58,797
Glidden K-12 School, Glidden School District — $ 16,508
Howe Elementary School, Green Bay Area School District — $ 35,580
Ladysmith Elementary School, Ladysmith-Hawkins School District — $ 26,308
Lakeview Elementary School, South Milwaukee School District — $ 22,689
Logan Middle School, La Crosse School District — $ 40,027
Marinette Middle School, Marinette School District — $ 61,209
Mead Elementary School, Wisconsin Rapids School District — $ 35,278
Milwaukee Public Schools
Forest Home Elementary School — $ 61,133
Kosciusko Middle School — $ 34,976

North High School, Eau Claire Area School District — $ 132,368
Northern Lights Elementary School, Superior School District — $ 48,168
Parkside Middle School, Wautoma Area School District — $ 38,067
Rock Elementary School, Hudson School District — $ 45,304
Salem Elementary School, Salem School District — $ 84,351
Sherman Middle School, Madison Metropolitan School District — $ 40,555
Turtle Creek Elementary School, Delevan-Darien School District — $ 41,836
Viroqua Middle School, Viroqua Area School District — $ 18,091
City of Wausau
GD Jones Elementary School, Wausau School District — $ 18,468
Newman Catholic School, Wausau — $ 15,679
Webster Stanley Elementary School, Oshkosh Area School District — $ 33,469
Wilson Elementary School, Janesville School District — $ 23,745

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:41 PM | Comments (9) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 10, 2006

Maya Cole endorses healthy Homegrown Lunches

The following commitment by Maya Cole seems particularly important to post given the lively discussion on healthy food:

I enthusiastically endorse the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Food Policy Recommendations, and I will work to win adoption of the recommendations if I have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a grassroots program whose goal is to enhance the Madison public schools' existing meal programs by introducing fresh, nutritious, local and sustainably grown food to children, beginning in the city's elementary schools. The program, like similar "farm-to-school" programs around the country, will provide an opportunity for children to reconnect with their natural world and will help establish a stable market for local farmers and processors.

I know elementary school teachers who give their students carrots and other fresh vegetables for snacks, and the children gobble them up, so children will eat healthy food when given the opportunity.

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a joint project of the REAP Food Group and the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

Farmers markets are islands of pride and excellence in our community, and homegrown, locally purchased foods extends farmers markets into the lunch rooms of our schools. What could be better for farmers and children?

The Web site of Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch lists the following principles that it recommends for the MMSD:

• Healthy children are the foundation of a healthy society;
• Healthy, well-nourished children are better able to learn;
• All children deserve nutritious, safe, and deliciously prepared food;
• Eating habits developed in childhood will affect health throughout life;
• Knowledge of food—how it is grown, who grows it, how it is prepared, and its connection to tradition —is integral to a healthy education.

Additional information is available at the Web sites of REAP Food Group and Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

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March 7, 2006

More-healthful school menus fatten districts' food bills

Ofelia Madrid:

chool lunch has definitely changed from the days of mystery meat slapped onto a tray.

Some students now have their choice of chicken Caesar wraps, chocolate covered bananas and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Schools across the Valley are making the switch to more-healthful foods on the lunch menu in anticipation of a state law banning junk food and a federal wellness mandate requiring more-healthful lunches starting July 1.

School district nutrition directors must figure out how to meet the nutrition guidelines and offer more-healthful foods, which are more expensive. Students, who are noticing and liking some of the new foods, could be asked to pay more than the average $2 for lunch.

"They're . . . giving us healthier sides," said Scottsdale student Jessica Charchedi. "Now we get fruit instead of fruit rollups,"

Food broker David Glutz remembers getting into the school-lunch business 20 years ago.

"The school wanted to spend 40 cents an entree. That hasn't changed," said Glutz, who works with most Valley school districts.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 1, 2006

West High Event to Focus on Fast Food Companies' Responsibility

Given all of the interest on the District's proposed food policy, the following event might be of interest to SIS readers in the West attendance area:

To what extent should fast food companies be held responsible for their customer's health? West High School Students for an Informed Response (SIR) invite you to hear opposing viewpoints, debate, discuss, and learn about this question at SIR's Family and Community Town Supper this Thursday evening, March 2, at 7:00 p.m. We'll host David Schwartz of the UW Law School and Pete Hanson of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, and they will discuss obesity lawsuits, nutrition, and other related matters. The audience will get a chance to join in the discussion and ask questions. We'll provide a dinner: a choice between pizza or bagels, along with drinks, salad, chips, and a dessert of some kind.

This should be a very informative and interesting event and hopefully some of you or others you know may be interested. For those with students interested, we are selling tickets through Thursday afternoon before and after school in the Ash Street entrance for $5.00. If you are interested in coming but don't have a means of purchasing tickets at West, feel free to email me ( and let me know that you are interested; you may pay at the door. However, we do need a count beforehand of how many people are coming for calculating the amounts of food.

Thanks for your interest!

Reuben Henriques
Students for an Informed Response

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February 26, 2006

Governors Urge Change in Eating Culture

Robert Tanner:

Greasy food. Sugary drinks. And exercise? The tolls from today's temptations, from sweet soft drinks popular with school kids to drive-through lunches eaten behind the wheel, are well-known: obesity, diabetes, heart attacks. Governors say states can guide people to healthier choices - and that they must to cut rising health care costs.
NGA Healthy America site

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February 24, 2006

Eating for Credit

Alice Waters:

IT'S shocking that because of the rise in Type 2 diabetes experts say that the children we're raising now will probably die younger than their parents — the result of a disease that is largely preventable by diet and exercise. But in public schools these days, children all too often are neither learning to eat well nor to exercise.

Fifty years ago, we had a preview of today's obesity crisis: a presidential council told us that America's children weren't fit — and we did something about it, at great expense. We built gymnasiums and tracks and playgrounds. We hired and trained teachers. We made physical education part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Students were graded on their performance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 22, 2006

Go with Your Gut

Harriet Brown:

LAST week's reports that low-fat diets may not reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer have left Americans more confused than ever about what to eat. I'd like to make a radical suggestion: instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let's resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.

Because, as it turns out, when you eat something you like, your body makes more efficient use of its nutrients. Which means that choking down a plateful of steamed cauliflower (if you hate steamed cauliflower) is not likely to do you as much good as you think.

In the 1970's, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.

The researchers concluded that food that's unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the "second brain" — the gut — and the brain in your head.

Imagine sitting in your favorite Japanese restaurant before a plate of sushi, chopsticks poised. You take in its fragrance and the beautiful cut of the fish, the shapely rice and nori rolls. Those delectable smells and sights tell your brain that the meal will be enjoyable, and the brain responds by pushing your salivary glands into high gear and ordering your stomach to secrete more gastric juices.

Result: you get more nutritional bang for your buck than you would, say, faced with a platter of lutefisk. In that case, your brain might send fewer messages to your mouth and stomach, causing the food to be less thoroughly digested and metabolized.

Does this mean we should be reaching for the Krispy Kremes and forgoing the raw cauliflower? No. The food has to have nutritive value in the first place. But maybe we could take a lesson from the French, whose level of heart disease is lower than ours despite their richer diet. The French savor the taste and texture of food and the experience of eating; we tend to eat dutifully (how much cauliflower can you choke down?), on the run (hardly realizing what we're eating), or rebelliously (devouring a whole box of Entenmann's because we feel deprived).

In fact, we're hard-wired to enjoy food; it's a survival mechanism. Volunteers in the 1946 University of Minnesota Starvation Study, who spent six months at half rations, developed a slew of peculiar rituals around eating. They devoted hours to meals that might normally take a few minutes, cutting a slice of bread into tiny bits with a knife and fork, arranging the bits on the plate, chewing each mouthful 200 times — all behaviors engineered to prolong both the act of eating and the enjoyment of the limited food available.

The health writer Lawrence Lindner tells of a committee that gathered to hammer out the wording of the United States Dietary Guidelines in 1995. One committee member suggested that the first guideline read "Enjoy a variety of foods" — language that was rejected as "too hedonistic." (In the end, Mr. Lindner wrote, the committee "opted for the apparently less giddy 'Eat a variety of foods.' ") So let's vow to enjoy our food, not wolf it down in the car with a heaping order of guilt. Call it Slow Food, conscious eating, or eating the French way, the point's the same: eating well and with pleasure is more than hedonism — it's good nutritional policy and practice. Bon appétit!

Harriet Brown, the editor of the forthcoming anthology "Mr. Wrong," is working on a book about anorexia.

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February 19, 2006

The FruitGal

Sam Whiting:

nstead of getting employees to eat junk food on breaks at work, the company buys them fruit. They put that in the break room and the employees snack on that instead of junk and they feel good and they work hard and they don't call in sick.

On cost

It's about $60 for a 40-serving box of seasonal fruit that's guaranteed to please. If it's not of the quality you want, we'll replace it. There's no contract.

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February 15, 2006

Thinning the Milk Does Not Mean Thinning the Child

Gina Kolata:

It's not that no one has tried. In the 1990's, the National Institutes of Health sponsored two large, rigorous studies asking whether weight gain in children could be prevented by doing everything that obesity fighters say should be done in schools — greatly expand physical education, make cafeteria meals more nutritious and less fattening, teach students about proper nutrition and the need to exercise, and involve the parents. One study, an eight-year, $20 million project sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, followed 1,704 third graders in 41 elementary schools in the Southwest, where students were mostly Native Americans, a group that is at high risk for obesity. The schools were randomly divided into two groups, one subject to intensive intervention, the other left alone. Researchers determined, beginning at grade five, if the children in the intervention schools were thinner than those in the schools that served as a control group.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Janesville School District's Proposed New Food Policy


The proposal would require schools to offer healthier options, like flavored water instead of juices and soda high in sugar. It would also discourage using candy for classroom rewards or for school fundraising.

Steve Salerno, principal of Marshall Middle School said schools should show nutritional responsibility.

"When we see things about childhood obesity, as we do in the news, how are we as a school practicing what we preach?" said Salerno. "We educate good nutrition, we need to be able to put our backing behind that."

Julie Ruef, the kitchen manager at Marshall, emphasized the importance of the family meal.

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February 14, 2006

Clinton, Wood Johnson Foundation Announce Healthy Schools Effort


Former President Clinton and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced an $8 million initiative Monday to fight childhood obesity by promoting healthier food and more exercise in schools.
Meanwhile, Idaho politicians are concerned with exploding soda consumption in their schools.

February 3, 2006

School Foods Policy Meeting

I took the opportunity to attend the meeting for health professionals on the development of a school foods policy for the MMSD.

Americans seem to take an "all or nothing" approach to nutrition (either "on" a diet or "off"; restrained with eating all day and anything goes in the evening)--I'm afraid most of us know what I'm talking about. I'm hoping food policy doesn't take a similar dichotomy.

There is concern that school food service will not be able to operate in the black if they don't sell food that "students will actually buy and eat". I think there can be a moderate approach that is healthful. Yes, pizza can still be served, but how about a smaller portion as part of a meal that includes fruit/vegetable/salad and milk?

Here are the recommendations from our clinic--in short, we want to encourage normal meals at mealtimes (a good mix of foods, appropriate portion sizes, reasonable time allotment). Much of what has gone wrong with our eating is this country can be traced to the breakdown of meals and the huge increase in snacking/grazing on processed snack foods. Correcting this accomplishes the first big step in changing our consumption patterns and disease risk.

UW Children’s Hospital Pediatric Fitness Clinic
Position on Effective School Foods Policy
February 1, 2006

  • Offer full meals for a flat fee during breakfast and lunch periods. Choices could be offered within each food group--choice of 2-3 different fruits/vegetables/salad, 2 entrees, etc, but ultimately each child would get a meal. Children should eat meals at meal times and these meals should model current standards for normal, balanced eating.

  • Phase out a la carte lines. A la carte lines encourage the snacking/grazing pattern of eating and increase consumption of processed snacks, desserts, sugary drinks.

  • Maintain nutrition standards for all foods served on school grounds. See “Model School Foods Reform Legislation” ( for examples of specific standards.

  • Reflect current standards and guidelines in school breakfast and lunch menus. For example, since health professionals do not advocate eating French fries every day, the schools should not offer them every day. Or, current nutrition recommendations encourage 3 ½ ounces whole grain foods each day, so whole grains should be part of the mix of foods served at breakfast and lunch.

  • Model appropriate inclusion of desserts, fried and processed foods in school meals. Since children need to learn appropriate ways to include “pleasure” foods into their diets (i.e. reasonable portions in the context of a meal), these foods should appear on school menus. A plan should be in place for the portion size and frequency with which these foods are included on the menu.

  • Schedule longer meal periods to promote normal eating. Meals should feel relaxed and provide social time. When kids are rushed, it impacts the pace of their eating and their food priorities (“I’ll just eat the pizza and throw away the salad if I run out of time”). Increasing food quality/food cost may not improve nutrition if kids throw food away due to time limits.

  • Promote a positive food environment. Less emphasis on labeling foods “good” or “bad”, avoid posting nutritional content of individual foods. Modeling is an effective teaching tool and kids should feel secure that the adults in the school environment are looking after their nutritional health.
Posted by Marcy Braun at 12:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nutritionist campaigning against junk food

Anne Wallace Allen:

Stephanie Rose walked into the lunchroom of the Idaho Falls High School with a homemade chart and tallied what she found: Canisters of potato chips. Heaps of candy. Cellophane-wrapped cakes. High-caffeine sports drinks.

Twelve percent of the foods offered by the district a la carte program were granola or cereal bars, fruits, vegetables, or low-fat chips or pretzels. The other 88 percent included nachos, corn dogs, chips and cookies.

"For 25 cents you can buy 310 calories," said Rose, a nurse and diabetes educator who attended Idaho Falls High in the 1980s, when she had to take a helping of beans on her plate whether she wanted them or not.

These days, the school promotes "Corn dogs: two for a dollar," she says. "Good Lord, what are you trying to do here?"

UW Health Nutritionist Marcy Braun participated in a recent Forum on Nutrition and Schools audio / video

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February 2, 2006

New York City Eliminates Whole Milk from The Menu

David Herszenhorn:

For generations of children, a serving of whole milk, customarily in a red and white carton, has been as synonymous with school as a yellow No. 2 pencil. When President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Program into law in 1946, a half pint of milk was one of five dietary staples required by the bill.

But children today are fat, or at least too many of them are, and to cut the risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems, New York City — the nation's largest school district — has decided to cut whole milk from the menu.

That feat, no small one in a system that serves a half-million half pints of milk a day, is already under way, with whole milk banished from cafeterias in the Bronx and in Manhattan. To the ire of the dairy industry, which has lobbied fiercely against the change, the other boroughs are following suit and, by the end of this month, officials say, whole milk will be gone for good.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oregon Kids Getting Heavier

Tim Fought:

Because Oregon kids are growing out faster than they are growing up, public schools must get students exercising and remove the temptation of junk food, child advocates say.

Nearly one in four Oregon children meet the definition of overweight or obese, in adult terms, according to the annual Kids Count report.

It said this is part of a national trend: More than twice as many children and three times as many adolescents are overweight today than was the case 30 years ago.

The leader of the group that issues the report, Children First for Oregon, said overweight children are part of an epidemic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 25, 2006

Student Posting on District Food Policy

I am a member or the MMSD's Student Senate. I am currently involved in a group discussing a draft of a proposed food policy which I feel is rather Draconian. The draft has not yet been made public (I am told this is because it is a "draft" and thus not ready for release) and that the issues have been publicized. However, I am concerned about some measures of the policy and feel that they have not been highlighted for interested parents. I think some of you might have concerns as well. Here are some of the propositions that my committee has voted against altering as well as what parents were told at the January 17th meeting about the policy

"When beverage vending is available, the only beverages that be offered for sale [not me wording] or permitted in schools at all sites accessible to students will be water, milk, fruit juices composed of 100% fruit juice with no added sweeteners of caffeine, and electrolyte replacement ("sports") beverages that do not contain caffeine or more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20 oz serving."

"No food will be sold to students in vending machines"

This is currently true of all elementary schools and most middle schools, but not the high schools. Vending sales at the four major high schools bring in roughly $15-20 thousand a year for the school (some of a principal's only discretionary income). Personally, I feel eliminating all sales of soda and snacks seems extreme, especially considering the current financial pressure schools are under. The "cold turkey" elimination of all of these sales starting with the 06-07 school year seems like too much.

"Candy will not be given or sold to students nor offered for sale at school or to the community by the school during the school day. The sale of candy and snacks [this language will be revised to be more specific] is not permitted on school grounds during the school day."

This would mean that clubs that rely on sales of such items would have to search for new methods. Bake sales would be eliminated. Students would be able to buy a giant cookie in the lunchroom, but not a small one in support of a club.

From the information packet from the parent meeting on the 17th, it seems the district made it's intentions somewhat clear here. "Should we continue [vending/fundraising sale of soda/snacks] in light of what we know about the relationship of food intake to the increase in overweight and obese children?" The document does not mention the proposed elimination of such sales.

The district was less open about some other issues. For example, while healthier lunch was discussed, the following was not:

"All 'a la carte' items that are available during the school breakfast/lunch program that is served to students during the school day will have no more than 40% (35% by 9/1/2007 and 30% by 9/1/2008) of total calories derived from fat and no more than 10% of calories derived from saturated fat."

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the realities would be, quite simply, stupid. Students would be able to purchase pizza as part of a meal, but not just as a slice. What this would mean, since many students who buy meals don't eat the included fruit and milk, is that they would end up paying more for the same slice.

"No food preparation or cooking is permitted in the classrooms other than Family and Consumer Education classes or other classes with the express purpose of teaching cooking In these classes, no peanuts or nut products will be used."

Thus, foreign language classes would no longer be allowed to prepare tradition dishes (a common practice in my experience) and elementary school classes would not be able to cook (I know some of these schools have special school-day programs involving cooking that would have to go).

On these issues, parents were only given questions asking what would be done to ensure the safety of children with food allergies without unduly infringing on the food choices or others' and how the safety of none Food Services prepared foods could be insured. No mention of the proposed policies was made (which is especially egregious considering some of the provisions under the food allergies section that were modified just today).

I know some of your views may differ from mine, but I feel that what is most important is that you are not kept in the dark about what is going on in this district. There will be a second parent meeting held this Thurs. the 26th. I can't seem to find the time or location on the district web site so if you are interested, good luck finding it. Sometime in late March or Early April, this issue will go before the full Board of Education (I will try and let you know when that meeting will take place) so you will have another opportunity to voice your opinion.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 5:26 PM | Comments (37) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 20, 2006

Nearly 38% of Arkansas Children Overweight

Andrew DeMillo:

Thirty-eight percent of Arkansas' public school children are overweight or at risk of being overweight, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said in a report issued Thursday.

The finding was the same as last year's when UAMS also studied the effects of a 2003 state law that called for mandatory and voluntary changes in the schools to address health issues among Arkansas' children.

Health officials said Thursday they hope to see obesity numbers decline as more schools offer healthier food choices.

Learn more about this issue here and by watching the recent Nutrition and Schools Forum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 18, 2006

Charter Schools And Healthful Foods

Posted by Senn Brown at 3:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 16, 2006

A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States

American Heart Association:

The report is that nearly one sixth of young people between the ages of 2-19 are said to be overweight. While this is alarming, it is perhaps even more important to appreciate that the 16% overweight rate represents the nationwide average. Local rates vary widely depending on gender, race, socioeconomic status, educational background, and probably more, as yet, undetermined factors.

Among Mexican Americans ages 6-19, nearly one in four boys, and one in five girls are overweight. Over one fifth of African American females ages 6-19 are overweight. Combining these figures with those at risk for being overweight, we learn that excessive weight threatens the health of between a third and a half of children in these groups. And, the situation continues to worsen.

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December 10, 2005

Illinois Schools Proposed Junk Food Rules


Cartons of whole milk would be considered junk food, but baked Cheetos would not, under new rules proposed Friday by Illinois education officials
Read the proposed rules: [pdf]

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December 3, 2005

Nutrition and Schools Forum Audio, Video and Links

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from this site organized a Schools and Nutrition Forum Wednesday evening, November 30, 2005.

Video | MP3 Audio
Participants included:

David Bernhardt emailed the following links:

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December 1, 2005

Soft Drink Sales Down in US Schools?


the American Beverage Association sounds almost proud when it declares in a report being released Thursday that the amount of non-diet soft drinks sold in the nation's schools dropped more than 24 percent between 2002 and 2004.

The trade group's report is an effort to deflate threats of a lawsuit against soft drink companies, which face mounting pressure as childhood obesity concerns have led schools to remove sodas.

During the same two-year period, the amount of sports drinks sold grew nearly 70 percent, bottled water 23 percent, diet soda 22 percent and fruit juice 15 percent, according to the report, which is based on data from beverage bottling companies.

Regular soda is still the leader within schools, accounting for 45 percent of beverages sold there this year. But that's down from 57 percent three years earlier, the industry said, citing additional numbers based on 2002-2005 data.

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November 29, 2005

Joy Cardin and Marcy Braun: Nutrition and Schools

Wisconsin Public Radio:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 6:00 AM
What our kids are eat at school can send the wrong message about health and nutrition. So says Joy Cardin's guest, today after six. Guest: Marcy Braun ("brown"), nutritionist with the UW Health - Pediatric Fitness Clinic. She is a panelist at tonight's Nutrition and Schools Forum in Madison.
UPDATE: MP3 Audio of this broadcast

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November 27, 2005

The Golden Carrot

CBS News:

At Seven Hills Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hartman finds a cafeteria renowned for its great-tasting, healthy school lunches.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine awarded the cafeteria for overhauling the way they prepare food. Translation: they tossed out the deep fryer.

One worker was asked how the foods are fried and replied, "We don't fry. We bake."

And you know what that means: the food has less fat, of course, and there's less salt and sugar, and everything's cooked from scratch using organic meats, vegetables and whole grains.

"Some of the things we have here, I can't even pronounce," says one kitchen worker.

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from are hosting a Nutrition and Schools Forum Wednesday night, from 7 to 8 in the McDaniels Auditorium. Participants, topics and directions are available here.

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November 18, 2005

Are school lunches helping kids develop a healthy relationship with food as well as a healthy body?

Early in my career, I had to make a paradigm shift. Starting out, I thought my job was to tell people how to eat and I expected that they would eat as they “should”. Now I know that eating is a matter of taste and style and depends, for most people, to a lesser extent on nutrition facts. Although I’d love to be able to control what my clients eat, I have settled with the reality that I can’t even control what my dog eats! I buy Whole Foods dog food…he eats the white bread our neighbors toss on their lawn for the birds.

The point here is that your child’s eating style will be as unique as his appearance. It’s important that kids are provided with regular, fairly balanced meals and can choose what and how much to eat. It’s also important that they eat with others because meals are not just about consuming food. Once kids have meals that provide a framework for eating a variety of foods at predictable times, then the tendency to snack will lessen and cravings for processed foods will fade. Your child’s diet won’t be perfect, but he or she can still be perfectly healthy.

Normal, balanced eating has been taught throughout history by example—traditional combinations of foods eaten in a social context. Now we are expecting that kids will eat “healthy” by following a set of nutrition rules while surrounded by an unprecedented variety of very pleasurable, accessible and heavily advertised snacks. It is similar to telling a child, “for God’s sake, don’t touch yourself!”

Several hours after a small breakfast consisting of processed carbs (or no breakfast at all), hungry kids line up for school lunch. They start smelling the food, and then are faced with the choices: a meal? French fries and a Powerade? Dessert and juice? Many adults faced with the choice of what they “should” eat and what they “want” to eat will choose the latter…even more kids will do the same.

So, how can we help?
Adults can do a better job of managing the food environment to make it easier for kids to make more appropriate choices and to learn by example which foods are “staples” and which appear “now and then.” They also learn that combinations of different types of food make a satisfying meal for their body and mouth (otherwise termed hunger and appetite—both are important for guiding food choices).

A more ideal food environment would:

  • Offer fewer ala carte options which encourage kids to eat in a snacking/grazing style with more processed foods.
  • Provide a full meal for a flat fee. Choices can be offered within each food group (kids could select among several protein-containing main dish items; grain foods; a variety of fruits and vegetables; limited beverage options such as milk, chocolate milk or water; and small (1960’s sized) portions of recreational foods (desserts, chips, fries) several times per week.
  • Allow more time for sitting with friends and eating by scheduling longer lunch periods and having shorter lines.
  • Manage the diets of kids by having a deliberate plan for portion sizes and for frequency with which desserts and processed foods appear on the menu.
  • Offer a variety of foods to encourage kids to expand their tastes and see that all foods can be part of a decent diet. While fruit snacks have little redeeming nutritional quality, kids like them and are probably going to eat them. They should see, by example, that they are “now and then” foods (currently, they are available every day).
  • Avoid labeling food as “junk” or “unhealthy” or using nutrition labels that quantify calorie or fat content. With the combination of the obesity epidemic fueling fears and the “dieting” mind-set that is normative in the US, we feel we should identify which foods are junk and tell our kids, “for God’s sake, don’t eat it!” But, most kids like Oreos, for example. Because American culture promotes labeling food as “good” or “bad”, most kids can classify Oreos as bad. There is a small (very small) subset of very disciplined kids that won’t eat them. But most kids, given the chance, will. Of these, many will feel some degree of internal conflict. Negative food labels don’t change the food habits of most kids…they just add shame.
We need to guide our kids to be competent adult eaters by setting a reasonable example for what makes a satisfying meal and a nurturing eating environment. This needs to happen at school as well as at home.

--Marcy Braun, RD, Nutritionist, Pediatric Fitness Clinic, UW Health.

Ellyn Satter’s books will give you more information on feeding kids.

Posted by Marcy Braun at 11:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 26, 2005

Harlem School Uses Regionally Grown Food

Reader Barb Williams forwarded this article by Kim Severson:

But perhaps no school is taking a more wide-ranging approach in a more hard-pressed area than the Promise Academy, a charter school at 125th Street and Madison Avenue where food is as important as homework. Last year, officials took control of the students' diets, dictating a regimen of unprocessed, regionally grown food both at school and, as much as possible, at home.

Experts see the program as a Petri dish in which the effects of good food and exercise on students' health and school performance can be measured and, perhaps, eventually replicated.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 24, 2005

Roadmap to Healthy Food in Schools

The Documentary SuperSize Me has two segments useful to readers: School food and PE. The school food segment includes a visit to Appleton Central Alternative School and a discussion of their healthy food partnership with Natural Ovens of Manitowoc. Interesting. 20MB Video excerpt from the film SuperSize Me

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:14 PM | Comments (3) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas