Working as a Health Promotions Coordinator, one of my job duties is to work with schools to improve nutrition and physical education for the students. This means working with schools and their wellness policies by either putting one in place or improving the one they have already created. I found I was very naive in thinking that a school with a wellness policy in place was actively doing things to improve the nutrition or physical activity of their school. The more I work with schools, the more I find that the wellness policy is a joke.
Schools are required to have some sort of wellness policy written up, but for the most part that is all it is. It’s something that someone has done the minimum requirements for and it now sits on a shelf somewhere and collects dust. No one takes the initiative or responsibility to do anything further with it. It’s no wonder that America’s youth are becoming so overweight when no one wants to step up to the plate and take action. Over the past four decades, the obesity rate has more than quadrupled for children ages 6 to 11 and more than tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. I admit, kids have become lazy, but I don’t blame them. I blame the lazy, overweight parents that are raising them and the schools who keep cutting back on physical education and nutrition education.
Let me begin with discussing the Breakfast Program that schools can implement and receive government money for. Most children do not eat a nutritious breakfast before school…or any breakfast for that matter. It has been shown that there is a strong link between a child eating breakfast and their academic performance in the classroom. Children who eat breakfast are more likely to do well academically, have more energy, have less visits to the school nurse, and less absenteeism. In 1975 the USDA made the school breakfast program available. Schools, both public and private, can choose to implement a program and receive cash subsidies from the USDA. However, the breakfast being served to the students must meet certain nutrition guidelines. I was very pleased when I learned about schools implementing a breakfast program…but then I found out what they were serving. The requirements state that the breakfast must contain no more than 30% of an individual’s calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat. In addition the meal must offer four food items from the following food components: vegetables and/or fruits; milk; and two servings of meat/meat alternate, two servings of grains/breads OR one serving of each of these components. This sounds ok, right? I then met with a few schools that were using this program and following the guidelines. I was shocked to find that the students were receiving choices of a sausage corn dog, pop tarts, juices (for the fruit), and something called a “super doughnut”. These are just some examples, but not one of those items are nutritious in the least bit! I cannot believe that the USDA deems these items acceptable for the program! What about healthy cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, real fruit, or anything whole grain at least? I love the idea of giving kids breakfast in the morning and I really do believe it helps with their performance at school, but schools that are offering handfuls of sugar to the kids are only going to get a bunch of hyper kids in the first class and tired kids the next as they crash from the sugar/carb intake. If the United States Department of Agriculture is going to be giving out monies for schools to offer breakfast then I think they should be putting stricter nutrition guidelines on what is served so that the program actually serves the purpose it is supposed to.