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Varnett does its part to fight childhood obesity

The Varnett Public School is doing its part to help in the decline of obesity among young children.

According to a recent federal survey, the rate of obesity in pre-school children dropped  40 percent over the last decade, an indication that the federal school meal standards put in place in 2011-12 appear to be making a difference.

Varnett’s  breakfast and lunch meals contain low sodium, low saturated fat, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and low-fat milk in promoting health and nutrition, said Ms. LaTonja Lacey, Varnett’s food service coordinator. “And we have PE every day,” Ms. Lacey said.

Varnett participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fresh fruit and vegetable program in 2011-12 and 2012-13. The district did not participate in the program this school year, but food service has not altered its menus. Ms. Lacey said she is looking to apply again for next school year and approval would bring in federal dollars to help Varnett resume the program.

About 98 percent of Varnett’s students qualify for the free and reduced-price meal program. The meals include no soft drinks or high-calorie snacks.

A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the prevalence of obesity among children ages 2 to 5 declined to 8.4 percent in the years 2011-12 from 13.9 percent in 2003-04. Less significantly, the rate also dropped among children age 6-11, from 18.8 percent to 17.7 percent.

During a recent lunch, Southwest Campus PreK-3 student My’ Kia Searuggs, in Ms. Bradley’s class, declared “I like milk!” as she held up her milk carton. Others chimed in, saying they like milk, too. On this day, March 10, lunch included Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, mixed greens, wheat roll, fruit and low-fat milk.

The precise reasons for the decline among 2- to 5-year olds aren’t known, but many child care centers and pre-schools are offering more healthful food and more exercise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.  “This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

Fruit and vegetable program
According to a USDA handbook, the goal of the fresh fruit and vegetable program is to:

-Create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices.

-Expand the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience.

-Make a difference in children’s diets to impact their present and future health.

The program also has been touted as a catalyst for change in efforts to combat childhood obesity.

Ms. Lacey said childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

“Because children spend so many hours a day in school or a child-care setting, one of the biggest challenges for parents is to stay up-to-date on factors that affect their children’s health and well-being,” Ms. Lacey said.

First Lady Michelle Obama, a leader in advocating for the good health of children, said the sharp decline in childhood obesity rates for some youngsters shows that small diet and lifestyle changes are making a difference.

Remember to review the breakfast and lunch menus on our website.

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