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 The legislation would update outdated federal nutrition standards for snack foods sold in school cafeterias alongside regular school meals and would apply those standards everywhere on school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, MD
University of Wisconsin Children’s Hospital
Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Fitness