AMES, Iowa – As childhood obesity rates are hitting an all time high, Iowa schools are stepping up and doing their part to eliminate the calorie crammed foods that have been available to students through vending machines, fundraisers and a la carte stands.
They’re getting ready for the Healthy Kids Act, which was signed into law May 13, 2008, by Gov. Chet Culver. The Healthy Kids Act establishes physical activity requirements for students in grades kindergarten through 12 (implemented July 1, 2009) and sets nutritional standards for food and beverages sold or provided on school grounds during the school day (to be implemented July 1, 2010).
On the one hand, it’s a junk food ban. But on the other hand, it’s a welcome step to improving the health of Iowa’s kids, says Ruth Litchfield, an Iowa State University Extension nutritionist and member of the Healthy Kids Act Advisory Panel.
“Our goal is to create a healthier school environment to instill life-long habits,” Litchfield said. “Working in schools reaches about 95 percent of our youth.”
Iowa State University Extension has been educating school districts around Iowa for 10 years by training food service employees and other personnel in food safety and preparation, nutrition needs of children and adolescents and other wellness–related topics. Extension offers schools the ability to participate in various research studies and summer workshops led by campus specialists.
The Healthy Kids Act sets nutrition guidelines specific to elementary, middle and high schools. More physical activity and foods with lower calorie, fat, sodium and sugar content are required for younger ages, while middle and high school students' guidelines are a bit more lenient.
Pop is one item that likely will be completely eliminated from all schools. Elementary schools will offer only nonfat or lowfat milk, flavored milks with restrictions on sugar content, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices and plain water. Specific beverage guidelines for middle and high schools are still under development; it appears additional beverages may be allowed at these grade levels.
“We need to think of our children’s health. Right now the school system sends mixed messages — ‘do as we say, not as we do,’” Litchfield said.
School lunch and breakfast programs already follow guidelines to ensure weekly nutritional needs are met. The junk food ban will replace the unhealthy items with those more in line with the lunch and breakfast standards.
Caitlyn Miller, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294- 9915, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations (515) 294-0775, email@example.com