Schools increasingly check students for obesity

March 29, 2014, The Washington Post

The Chula Vista school district not only measures the academic progress of Marina Beltran’s second-grader, it also measures her son’s body fat.

Every two years, Antonio Beltran, like his classmates, steps on a scale. Trained district personnel also measure his height and then use the two figures to calculate his body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fat.

The calculation isn’t reported to Beltran or her son, who cannot see the readout on the scale that has a remote display. Instead it’s used by the district to collect local data on children’s weight.

Beltran supports her son’s school in measuring students because the data has brought in help to address obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other illnesses tied to a lifetime of poor habits. Continue reading

California lawmaker proposes warning labels for sugary drinks

Feb. 13, 2014, Reuters

By Sharon Bernstein

All sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in California would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay under a bill introduced in Sacramento on Feb. 13, backed by several public health advocacy groups.

If passed, caloric drinks would join tobacco and alcohol products in carrying health warning labels in California, the nation’s most populous state and a legislative trend-setter.

Proponents say the first-of-its kind effort takes aim at the epidemic of obesity in the United States, where 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continue reading

United States expands healthy food assistance to women, infants, and children

Feb. 28, 2014, Reuters

Some 9 million poor women and young children who receive federal food assistance under the U.S. government’s [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)] program will have greater access to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains under an overhaul of the program, which was unveiled on Feb. 28.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hailed the revamping of WIC as the first comprehensive revisions to the program’s food voucher allowances since 1980.

The list of foods that recipients could pay for with WIC vouchers was long limited to such basics as milk, infant formula, cheese, eggs, cereals, bread, and tuna fish. Continue reading

United States proposes major update to food labels in bid to combat obesity

Feb. 27, 2014, Reuters

By Tom Clarke

Packaged foods sold in the United States would display calorie counts more prominently and include the amount of added sugar under a proposal to significantly update nutritional labels for the first time in 20 years as health officials seek to reduce obesity and combat related diseases such as diabetes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Feb. 27 that its proposal would also ensure that the amount of calories listed per serving reflects the portions that people typically eat. That change may result in per serving calorie counts doubling for some foods such as ice cream.

First lady Michelle Obama, who has used her White House position to launch the Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity, announced the proposal for the FDA. Continue reading

USDA awards grants to develop obesity prevention programs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will make three grants totaling $5 million to universities to develop childhood obesity prevention programs. Vilsack made the announcement during the keynote address before the 2014 National PTA Legislative Conference in Arlington, VA.

“USDA is at the forefront of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat childhood obesity, which poses a threat to the health and future productivity of our entire nation,” said Vilsack. “These grants fund critical research that will help USDA and our partners implement effective strategies to support America’s next generation so they can have a healthy childhood and develop healthy habits for life.” Continue reading

Access to healthy food improves health, brings economic benefits

Feb. 20, 2014, Huffington Post

Access to healthy food can bring triple bottom-line benefits to communities — better health, new jobs, and a revitalized economy. But nearly 30 million Americans still live in low-income areas with limited access to supermarkets. The problem is particularly acute in low-income communities of color.

The good news is Congress took steps to expand access to healthy food last week, including a $125 million authorization for the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in the nearly $1 trillion farm bill. To improve access, the program invests in the development and expansion of food retail businesses and food hubs that in return can bring much-needed jobs and spur economic revitalization in low-income neighborhoods.

Bringing healthy food retail into neighborhoods that have historically lacked access is a key strategy within a multifaceted approach to improve the food environment and advance community well-being. PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund have been working with local, state, and national healthy food advocates for years to expand fresh food access in underserved areas throughout the United States. Continue reading

Big Bird, Elmo to encourage kids to eat produce

Nov. 27, 2013, DCA Press

A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down “Sesame Street.”

Michelle Obama announced that the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational TV program will let the produce industry use Elmo, Big Bird, and Sesame Street’s other furry characters free of charge to market fruits and veggies to kids.

The goal is to get children who often turn up their noses at the sight of produce to eat more of it.

Under the arrangement, Sesame Workshop is waiving the licensing fee for its Muppet characters for two years.

As soon as next spring, shoppers and children accompanying them can expect to see their favorite Sesame Street characters on stand-alone signs and on stickers and labels on all types of produce regardless of whether it comes in a bag, a carton, or just its skin. Continue reading

First-ever census reveals growing popularity of Farm to School program

Oct. 22, 2013, The Washington Post

By Tim Carman

More than 40 percent of the U.S. public school districts that responded to a historic census said they were participating in a program that helps bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias. The percentage of participating schools was even higher in Maryland, Virginia, and the District, where the program has taken deep root.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first-ever census of school districts across the country revealed how popular the national Farm to School program has become in recent years: About 43 percent of U.S. school districts — or about 38,600 schools — bought local produce for their students during the 2011-2012 school year, investing more than $354 million in farms near their communities. Another 13 percent said they would be participating in the program “in the near future.” Continue reading

Improving school lunch by design

Oct. 16, 2013, The New York Times

By Courtney E. Martin

What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?

In spring 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District (S.F.U.S.D.) began a five-month collaboration with the design firm IDEO to re-imagine the school food system. This effort might not sound unique. Childhood obesity has become a hot topic, in large part thanks to the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and projects by high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters have aimed at getting fresh, healthy foods in schools.

In this case, however, the adults aren’t as concerned with what students are eating as they are with how they are eating.

“When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,” explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. “The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?” Continue reading

USDA: Small number of schools drop out of federal lunch program due to healthier requirements

Sept. 29, 2013, Daily Reporter

By Mary Clare Jalonick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.

The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.

Data the department is planning to release Sept. 30 shows that 80 percent of schools say they have already met the requirements, which went into place at the beginning of the 2012 school year. About a half dropped out of the program. Continue reading