may 2013






New SNAP-Ed toolkit helps states identify obesity prevention strategies

May 7, 2013, NCCOR

On March 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new toolkit to help states identify evidenced-based obesity prevention policy and environmental change interventions to include in their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed). The toolkit includes strategies and interventions that can be readily adopted by states in a variety of different capacities including child care, school, community, and family settings.

All 50 states, the District of Colombia, and the Virgin Islands provide nutrition education for participants enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) and other eligible low-income individuals. The goal is to help people make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate.

Traditionally, the focus of SNAP education initiatives has been on the individual recipient, but the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 transformed the program into a nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program. Known as SNAP-Ed, the program explicitly adopts obesity prevention as a major emphasis and embraces comprehensive, evidence-based strategies delivered through community-based and public health approaches.

In October 2012, USDA asked for help from the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) in developing a toolkit of effective and actionable tools and interventions that embody community-based and public health approaches to nutrition education and obesity prevention. NCCOR immediately convened a group of members interested in working on the project and helped USDA assemble a set of tools that are: (1) proven effective, (2) consistent with SNAP-Ed policy and practice, (3) suitable for low-income populations, and (4) likely to achieve obesity prevention goals.

The final product is an online toolkit that offers a robust group of effective interventions that can be adopted by SNAP agencies and providers at the state level. The toolkit was drawn from various sources, including public health literature, collections of existing interventions, and other resources developed by organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the North Carolina Center for Training and Research Translation (Center TRT).




Report highlights effects of USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in schools

A March 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Research and Analysis explores new evaluation results of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).

FFVP aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among students in the most economically challenged U.S. elementary schools by providing fresh fruits and vegetable to students outside of regular school meals.

FFVP began as a pilot program in 2002 and was converted into a nationwide program in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the Farm Bill (PL 110-234).

Among the findings: FFVP students consumed more fruits and vegetables than nonparticipating students (approximately 1/3 cup more per day); and FFVP students consumed more carbohydrates, beta carotene, vitamins A and C, and fiber than nonparticipating students.

To learn more about the evaluation and its findings:





Healthy People eLearning lesson offers opportunity to learn more about childhood obesity

Healthy People eLearning, a resource from the Department of Health and Human Services, is offering a new childhood obesity lesson that explores how one community is implementing and evaluating a systems-wide approach to reduce childhood obesity. The lesson, “Defining Success in a Systems Approach: The San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative,” examines how San Diego County is learning to evaluate its systems approach to reduce childhood obesity and create healthier environments. The course is free and offers continuing education credits.



USDA launches updated web tool to map food deserts

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) first released the Food Desert Locator, an online mapping tool that used the 2000 Census and other data sets to identify low-income census tracts in which a substantial number or share of residents face challenges in accessing the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. ERS has recently released an updated and expanded the tool and renamed it the Food Access Research Atlas.

The Food Access Research Atlas has updated estimates of food desert census tracts using 2010 census data, and offers several additional distance measures to visualize access to supermarkets. For example, in the original measure, a household was considered to be facing an access challenge if it was more than one mile from a supermarket in urban areas of the country or more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas. With the updated Atlas, users can also map low-income and low-access areas using distances of one-half mile and 20 miles.

In addition to expanded data layers for distance, the updated Atlas also highlights the role of vehicle availability in mitigating the difficulties of reaching a supermarket by identifying census tracts where many households lack access to a vehicle. Knowing where people face low access to both supermarkets and vehicles can be a first step toward addressing the most acute access challenges.

Another new feature identifies census tracts where a large proportion of the population lives in dormitories, military quarters, or similar group living arrangements as defined by the Census. While individuals in these census tracts may be far from a supermarket or large grocery store, such facilities frequently provide dining facilities or food stores for their residents. Noting these census tracts may provide a more accurate picture of whether these residents truly experience difficulty accessing affordable and healthy food.




Most children’s meals at large restaurant chains are still unhealthy, study finds

March 28, 2013, The New York Times

By Stephanie Strom

A new study of the nutritional quality of meals for children on the menus of the nation’s largest chain restaurants has found that 91 percent do not even meet the standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.

An even larger percentage — 97 percent of restaurant children’s meals — failed to meet stricter standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit research and advocacy group that commissioned the study.

“These were pretty dismal results,” said Margo G. Wootan, its director of nutrition policy.

The center did a similar study in 2008, which found that 99 percent of restaurant meals offered for children did not meet the standards. Ms. Wootan said she had expected a more significant improvement, particularly since many restaurant chains have been promoting their healthier options for youngsters.

“It’s one thing if they had gone from 99 percent unhealthy to 50-50,” she said. “But to go from 1 percent of kids’ meals being healthy to 3 percent over four years — it’s as if the restaurant industry hasn’t heard there is an obesity epidemic in this country.”

The center singled out Subway as the only restaurant that did not offer sugared drinks with its children’s meals, instead suggesting water or low-fat milk. All eight of the sandwich chain’s Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations met the nutritional criteria. At the other extreme were meals like grilled cheese on sourdough bread accompanied by fries and 2 percent chocolate milk at Applebee’s. The meal contained 1,210 calories, almost half of which came from fat, or almost three times the amount of calories as the center’s criteria for 4- to 8-year-olds allowed.

In a statement, DineEquity, the parent company of Applebee’s, said its children’s menu offered other choices that were “significantly” lower in calories, fat and sodium, like a grilled chicken sandwich with a side of steamed broccoli and apple or grape juice, which contains 355 calories.

“We know Applebee’s best serves our guests by providing a wide selection of dishes, and we’ll continue to do so by expanding the number of options for kids by the end of this year,” the company said.

Applebee’s is one of 120 restaurant chains that participate in the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program, which requires that at least one children’s meal have two servings of fruits or vegetables, whole grains and a low-fat dairy product and be under 600 calories. There are 342 meal options that meet the criteria among the first 19 chains that signed onto the program, the association says.

Anita Jones-Mueller, a registered dietitian and founder of the website Healthy Dining Finder, which works with the association to design and monitor the program, said many of the restaurant companies that support the site were working hard to improve the nutritional quality of the meals they offered children.


Original source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/business/most-childrens-meals-at-large-chains-are-unhealthy-study-finds.html?_r=0


Dish size, meal frequency may affect kids' weight

April 8, 2013, Reuters

By Genevra Pittman

Shrinking the size of kids' plates and bowls and encouraging them to eat more frequently throughout the day might help them eat less and keep off extra weight, new research suggests.

In one study, researchers found first-graders served themselves smaller portions when using miniaturized dishware - and ate less food when they had less on their plate.

Another review of past research found kids and teens who ate most often during the day were 22 percent less likely to be overweight than those who ate the fewest meals and snacks. Jennifer Fisher, who worked on the dish-size study, said it was preliminary but could still inform parent choices.

"For now, certainly it seems like something parents can easily incorporate into their daily lives without a lot of work and effort," Fisher, from Temple University in Philadelphia, told Reuters Health.

She and her colleagues studied 42 elementary school kids who were given the chance to serve themselves lunch. On four days the kids used child-sized plates and bowls; on another four they used adult-sized dishware, which was twice as large.

First-graders served themselves an average of 300 to 500 calories worth of the lunch entrée - pasta or chicken nuggets - each day.

When they used adult dishware, the kids took an average of 90 more calories of food, the researchers found. And kids who ended up with more food on their plates also tended to eat more, Fisher's team wrote April 8 in Pediatrics.

"It doesn't appear that simply because you might have large dishware at home, your child is going to overeat," said Fisher - because it depends on who's doing the serving and how much is served.

But, she added, "If more food appears on the plate, they're going to eat more."

"The results are very interesting and confirm our expectations that the impact of plate size on adults in the laboratory also apply to children," Dr. Thomas Robinson, a childhood obesity researcher at Stanford University in California, told Reuters Health in an email.

"This study provides very important preliminary evidence that using smaller dishware may help reduce children's energy intakes." For their own analysis, researchers from Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, looked at 11 studies, mostly conducted in the Mediterranean, that compared eating frequency and weight in close to 19,000 kids and teens.

The overall pattern showed that youth who ate most often - typically at least four or five times per day - were least likely to be overweight or obese. However when they looked closer, the researchers found that link only held up in boys.

Robinson, who was not involved in the new research, said it's hard to tell which came first in those studies: eating frequency or extra weight.

The results "do not look very convincing one way or another," he said. "It is also hard to come up with a convincing reason why boys and girls would be different."

The researchers said their findings don't prove that a given child will lose weight by eating more often. But schools, for example, may be able to make a difference by integrating smaller, more frequent meals into the day.

"Instead of providing three big meals per day, it would be better (for parents) to have their children eating smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day," co-author Mary Yannakoulia told Reuters Health in an email.

However, she added, parents still need to pay attention to the quality of those snacks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of kids and teens in the United States are obese - a proportion that has almost tripled since 1980.

"We know that it's so complex that there's absolutely not one cause or solution," Fisher said.

A third study also published this week in Pediatrics found teens who spent more time focused on the TV were heavier than their peers. However, time spent playing video games or on the computer was not tied to weight.


Original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/08/us-dish-size-meal-idUSBRE93703J20130408


Not all screens are equal when it comes to obesity risk: TV may have greatest effect

April 8, 2013, TIME

By Bonnie Rochman

Sitting in front of a screen can increase the risk of obesity, but TV seems to have a larger effect on weight than computers or video games.

Computers, televisions, smartphones, and tablets are all responsible for keeping more kids more sedentary and mesmerized by a screen, but a new study in Pediatrics found some surprising differences among these devices and their relationship to childhood obesity. It turns out that only television — in particular, paying close attention to what’s on the tube — is associated with heavier kids. In a study of young teens, 14-year-old boys who reported paying the most attention to what was playing on television weighed 14.2 pounds more than boys who reported paying the least attention. For girls, the difference was 13.5 pounds.

The study, conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, took an intensive look at what media 91 teens between the ages of 13 and 15 use most and how they used these devices. The scientists signaled the kids at random times during the study via smartphone to report their activities — were they playing sports, or doing homework, or surfing the web? If they were doing multiple activities at once — texting and watching television, for example — which activity were they focused on?

Researchers also recorded height and weight measurements of the participants and calculated the kids’ BMI, or body mass index. They found that teens spent more than three hours a day watching television — more time than they spent with any other sort of screen — and that those teens who paid the most attention to the shows they were watching had the highest BMI. Meanwhile, paying close attention to video games or computers was not linked with weighing more.

Why? While watching television, says Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital and the study’s senior author, kids are bombarded with advertising for high-calorie snack foods, and at the same time, their hands are free to allow them to munch at will as opposed to when they are playing video games or using the computer or texting, which occupies their fingers more.

“If you’re paying attention to TV, you’re not paying attention to hunger cues,” says Rich, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “Big picture, it’s not how much time any screen is on. It’s what screen is on, what content is on that screen, and what else is my child doing while absorbing that content.”

With so much screen-based media now available to children, Rich believes it doesn’t make sense to shun screen time completely. In fact, he says that guidelines that tell parents to clamp down on their kids’ screen time are likely to be futile. “That advice has gotten virtually zero traction,” he says. “Kids’ screen time just keeps going up and up and up.”

Instead, a more practical approach for pediatricians might be to fine-tune their advice, helping parents shape their children’s media use rather than cut it back. His suggestion: Be mindful of the content that kids are watching. Be aware that kids’ risk of being overweight is increased by watching lots of television.

Does that mean pushing kids toward the iPad rather than the boob tube? Rich wouldn’t exactly endorse that approach. But it’s more likely that teens will respond positively to being weaned off the television if a different screen is offered in its place. “Screens are now part of the environment that these kids are living in,” says Rich. “It’s like the air they breathe and the water they drink.” It’s just a matter of being aware of what’s on those screens that are keeping children so absorbed.


Original source: http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/08/not-all-screens-are-equal-when-it-comes-to-obesity-risk-tv-may-have-greatest-effect/#ixzz2PyV6Vq4F


Strict school lunch standards tied to healthy weight

April 8, 2013, Reuters

By Andrew M. Seaman

Strict school lunch standards that are similar to new regulations from the U.S. government may be tied to healthier body weights among students, according to a new study. "I think it's evidence that healthier school lunches have a positive effect but it's preliminary evidence. It's far from definitive," said Anne Barnhill, who studies food policy at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia but was not involved with the new research.

The new findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics on April 8, bode well for the standards introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January 2012 that — among other moves — set maximums for calories offered during lunch and mandate that only skim or reduced-fat milk are offered to students.

Prior to 2012, the USDA only set minimum calorie counts for school lunches. Now, the agency requires school lunches to fall between 550 calories and 850 calories — depending on a child's grade level.

Previous studies questioned whether the USDA's National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-priced meals to low-income students, helped children maintain a healthy weight. Research also found the lunches sometimes didn't meet standards and students who ate those meals tended to be obese.

Dr. Daniel Taber, the new study's lead author from the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said students who receive free or reduced-price lunches from the government tend to be more obese, but that may be due to their families' low-income status.

And while it's still too early to know the true effects of the new USDA regulations — other public policies could also play a role — the researchers said some states had already implemented their own lunch requirements that exceeded the federal standards by 2012.

Staying away from vending machines

For the new study, they compared the gap in obesity prevalence between students in states with strict lunch standards in 2006 and 2007 — before the new regulations took place — to states with less restrictive regulations.

Fewer than 10 states exceeded the USDA's standards back then. The states could do that in a variety of ways. For example, they could have increased the amount of fruits and vegetables available to students or mandated schools only offer skim or low-fat milk. Overall, the researchers found students who received free or reduced-price lunches were more obese than students who did not take part in the USDA program, but the gap in obesity prevalence was much smaller in states with strict lunch standards.

In states that did not exceed the standards, 26 percent of students in the lunch program were considered obese, compared to about 14 percent of students who did not get free or reduced-price lunches.

That compared to about 21 percent of students in the lunch program and about 17 percent of students who weren't in the program in states that exceeded the standards.

What's more, the researchers also found that students in states with strict lunch standards did not seem to compensate with less-healthy food from vending machines or other places.

"We didn't find any evidence of that, and we found healthier school meals have the potential to reduce obesity," Taber said. Nutritionist Marion Nestle of New York University, who wrote an editorial accompanying the new study, told Reuters Health in an email that the study shows that regulations work.

"This is important work and should stimulate government agencies to take a closer look at what they might do to make the food environment a lot healthier for children and adults," Nestle said.


Original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/08/us-health-schoollunch-idUSBRE93711820130408


Study identifies four new genetic markers for severe childhood obesity

April 12, 2013, TIME

By Alexandra Sifferlin

Unhealthy food environments and sedentary lifestyles certainly contribute to obesity, but they can’t entirely explain weight gain. The latest research points to four new genes that could contribute to the most extreme cases of obesity in childhood.

By comparing the genomes of 1,509 children in the United Kingdom with severe obesity to 5,380 similar children of normal weight, an international team of researchers first identified a series of 29 genetic changes that distinguished the heavier children. Narrowing these differences down to those that influence obesity, they found nine genes strongly linked to early weight gain, five of which were known, and four of which are new.

The findings suggest that childhood obesity may be driven by different genetic factors than adult obesity, which points to potentially different ways to treat the two conditions. A rare variant in one of the newly identified genes, LEPR, appeared more frequently among the children who developed obesity early on, but another version of the same gene appeared in about 6 percent of the population. Understanding how subtle changes in this gene can push the body either toward obesity or normal weight could lead to new treatments that more precisely target some of the root causes of weight gain, say the researchers.

Some of the other newly identified genetic changes were more prevalent among the children, which hinted at the fact that how these genes interacted with other factors, including lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity or exposure to pollutants, for example, as well as other genes, might determine their contribution to weight gain.

“Some children will be obese because they have severe mutations, but our research indicates that some may have a combination of severe mutations and milder acting variants that in combination contribute to their obesity,” Sadaf Farooqi of the University of Cambridge, and one of the study’s co-authors said in a statement.

The findings are part of a larger research initiative called the UK10K project that will continue to study the genes of 1,000 severely obese children without well-known obesity-related gene mutations. Researchers hope that work will continue to identify new genetic variants behind some of the more severe cases of childhood obesity, which in turn will improve understanding of its biological drivers and even shed light on other, more common forms of weight gain as well.

The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.


Original source: http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/12/study-finds-genetic-markers-for-severe-childhood-obesity/#ixzz2QLtu7jny



Schools aim to improve taste, nutrition of lunches

April 5, 2013, USA Today

By Christopher Doering

When diners at an exclusive food tasting recently noshed on sesame green beans and flame-roasted redskin potatoes, they weren't celebrating at the area's newest culinary hot spot.

Instead, these gourmands were huddled in a high school cafeteria sampling nearly 40 delicacies that could soon become permanent items for thousands of children who eat lunch and breakfast in this Northern Virginia school district each day.

The annual tasting show, a popular event for Prince William County officials to showcase new foods and collect input from students, parents, and school staff, has taken on added significance following new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition standards approved last year. School districts must now limit the calories that students consume, phase in whole grains, gradually lower sodium levels, and offer at least one fruit or vegetable per meal, among other requirements.

Schools are working to comply with these new measures by adding more green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, and overhauling traditional mainstays like pizza by substituting in low fat cheese and wholegrain crust, all within a limited budget. But officials are aware their efforts to improve nutrition will ultimately fail if their finicky customers at more than 100,000 institutions nationwide refuse to eat the new offerings.

For each food item, we look and say "can we afford this, is it good for them, does it meet all the new food requirements, those kind of things, but what's really important is are they going to buy it if we put it out there," said Serena Suthers, director of school food and nutrition services in Prince William County, located southwest of Washington, D.C.

The challenge is to win over students such as eighth-grader Terrell Worrell who only buys school lunch once a week. Worrell, one of the students attending the tasting, said he was surprised to find that he liked many of the foods he tried, especially the buffalo chicken and sweet potato swirl. In the past, Worrell and his friends have thought that as the meals have gotten healthier, the taste has failed to keep up.

"These examples that they're thinking of putting in the school lunches, they seem like they're trying to make them better because they've noticed that us kids don't really like what they've been putting out so far," said Worrell. The 13-year-old said he would be open to buying lunch more often if some of the items he enjoyed during the tasting were on the menu when he starts high school later this year. "It depends on how this turns out," he said.

School meal programs feed nearly 32 million children each day, according to the USDA. In Iowa, nearly 400,000 students eat lunch at school every day — about 73 percent of all kids enrolled in participating state schools. An estimated 93,000 Iowa kids also eat breakfast at school.

The new nutrition guidelines were put in place at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, starting with changes to the lunch program, to address the childhood obesity epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 17 percent of children and adolescents are considered obese. Since 1980, the obesity rate for this group has tripled.

The new standards require lunches each week to average from 550 to 650 calories for kids in elementary school, 600 to 700 calories for those in middle school, and 750 to 850 calories for high school students. An example of a typical elementary school lunch before the new standards had cheese pizza, canned pineapple, tater tots, and low fat chocolate milk. Today it would be replaced by whole wheat cheese pizza, baked sweet potato fries, grape tomatoes, applesauce, and low fat milk.

The new school lunch regulations have been widely criticized by students, parents, lawmakers, and administrators for being too costly and not providing enough flexibility. Opponents have argued the lunches are too small and lack enough calories for active children, especially high school students who are involved in sports and other activities.

"You could have a 70-pound freshman in high school on the same diet as a 250-pound high school football player and obviously both of them would need a different level of calories," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a vocal critic of the new guidelines. "The school lunch program was established in order to ensure that kids had a nutritious diet so they could learn and now (USDA is) using it to put them on a diet. I think they have overreached on this substantially."

King said limiting the number of calories students consume could backfire by leaving kids hungry and more likely to consume weight-inducing junk food when they leave school.

Across the country, the foods offered to students during breakfast and lunch vary by school district. Each year, about 15 percent to 20 percent of the funding for the programs is used by the states and school districts to purchase items — ranging from unsweetened applesauce and low sodium canned beans to lean ground beef and turkey roasts — from a list of more than 180 items offered by the USDA. The remaining 80 percent to 85 percent goes to states and schools, giving them the flexibility to buy the items they need, such as a particular food popular in their region.

School districts are left to decide their own breakfast and lunch menus, as long as they comply with federal nutrition guidelines. To come up with a list of new recipes isn't easy, and ideas are regularly mined from both traditional and unusual places.

Suthers said the school district holds a recipe contest among the staff to come up with suggestions. Some food items are taken directly from restaurant menus and adapted for use in the school. But it's the input from students during the school day and at tastings like this one that have the most impact on shaping the course of foods that make their way into the cafeteria.

"(Children) just love the idea of having some say," said Suthers. "So many things in kids' lives, they don't get to have much say in, so they love this event where they get to come and give opinions to adults."

Those attending the tasting at the Prince William County high school were given a one-page form to evaluate whether or not they liked the food items they tried and provide any comments. During the two-hour event, students, parents, and school staff were able to visit as many of the eight food stations as they wanted before sitting down at round tables in the cafeteria to eat. USDA officials, who were in attendance, regularly go to tasting events around the country put on by schools. They also visit cafeterias during the day to talk with kids and staff about the food and identify growing trends.

Increasingly, the foods offered by the USDA and put on the menu by schools are being shaped by what children eat and see at home. Government officials in charge of ordering and buying food for the school lunch program said as the popularity grows of Thai cuisine, intense flavors like buffalo wings, and vegetarian options, kids have started asking for the items to be served in their cafeterias, too.

In addition, as parents instill a healthier lifestyle at home, kids are expecting similar characteristics in the food they eat away from the dinner table.

"Schoolchildren are becoming very sophisticated eaters," said Laura Walter, a USDA official in charge of reviewing the foods offered to schools through the department's Food and Nutrition Service. Walter said sometimes they get inundated with requests from school districts for certain products. The most recent delectable surprise: frozen broccoli. "Word of mouth is spreading through the grapevine. We want this," she said.

Items do get dropped by USDA if they get too expensive to purchase or not enough schools demand them. Batter-breaded chicken and sloppy joes are some of the most recent casualties. In their place, new items are added to the menu. Later this year, USDA is considering letting schools purchase string cheese in a single serve pack, frozen spinach, and fruit cups for grab and go lunches and breakfasts.

Casey Tran, a high school senior, said at the recent tasting the food he sampled was fresher and there were more flavors than he's used to.

"It's pretty good compared to the stuff we have currently. I wouldn't throw it away," said Tran, a 17-year-old who buys lunch every day. "I'll eat it but it can't compare to home cooking."


Original source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/05/school-lunch-nutrition-new-standards/2053851/


SPARK fires up physical activity at Annapolis elementary school

April 4, 2013, The Baltimore Sun

By Joe Burris

At Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis, Md., students receive physical education once a week. Officially, that is.

Unofficially, students are engaging in the same level of activity as their "go-outside-and-play" parents of previous generations. At recess, before classes and after school — and in some cases even during classroom instruction — youngsters are getting workouts by playing traditional games, learning new ones, and creating their own spinoff versions.

Germantown Elementary is among the first schools in the area to implement a San Diego-based physical education program called SPARK, which stresses to children the importance of physical fitness, then provides grade-level equipment and instruction to back it up.

SPARK officials said the program began in 1989 as a result of a study supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and San Diego State University. The program aims to reduce childhood obesity and engage students in activity that doesn't involve waiting a turn or being selected to a team.

SPARK officials implement the program through teacher and volunteer training.

Germantown Elementary began using the program last fall. It's not part of the Anne Arundel County public schools' official curriculum, but is used to supplement curriculum at Germantown. Kindergarten teacher Sara Holbrook implements the program during classroom instruction using tasks such as learning the alphabet. "We just walk around the alphabet rug while playing music," she said, "and when the music stops, they have to tell me the letter. Midway through the year, we walk around the alphabet, and they have to tell me letter sound. And by the end of the year, they're telling me a word that starts with that letter.

"For kids who would rather sit at recess, it really engages them," Holbrook said. "It's kindergarten, it's a long day, and by the end of the day, they just want to rest and hang out with their friends. But when we have volunteers who come in and run the program, those kids who sit are running around and getting the exercise they need."

At recess, Germantown taps volunteers to lead SPARK activities. "Our P.E. teacher follows the county curriculum, but what we look to do is extend the P.E. time," said Walter Reap, principal at Germantown Elementary. "The students have P.E. once a week, but there are other opportunities throughout the school day for students to be moving instead of sitting in their seats for extended periods of time."

Reap said he heard about SPARK six years ago from a kindergarten teacher at the school who thought the program could help stimulate brain activity in students through movement, and could also help address behavior problems.

"At the time, it was my first year as a principal, and I couldn't see doing something that wasn't mandated by the county or state," Reap said.

Yet since implementing the program, Reap said he's seen benefits.

"One of the big words we throw around is 'stamina' — how long can students attend to task," said Reap. He said that since implementing SPARK, "I have seen students attend to tasks longer."

Christie Lenham, a Germantown Elementary parent and Annapolis resident, is one of the parents who took part in SPARK training for volunteers last fall. Since then, she said, parents have led activities such as Germantown's Walk to School Week before spring break.

Students who could walk to school were encouraged to do so, and those who take the bus were taken on a "SPARK tour" around the school, where volunteers set up exercise stations.

"They started with arm rotations, and then they went to the next cone and did squats," Lenham said. "Then they went to another cone and did jumping jacks and another cone and did lunges — all before school started. When they came off the buses, they kind of looked sad. By the time they went inside after doing that, they were all thrilled."

Lenham's son, fourth-grader Eoin Lenham, said students play games such as tag and basketball, as well as jump rope and play with hoops. He said the SPARK activity he enjoys most is a ball-kicking game where one person stands on one side of an area and kicks a ball to a group of people standing opposite. The person who catches the ball gets to kick next.

"You get to run around a lot and play outside, usually," Eoin said.

Reap said that one of the biggest differences he's seen at the school since implementing the program is "the energy that it brings to school each day.

"You might not see this on any test data," he said, "but for me, as a principal, seeing students get off the bus, running around the building, I'm thinking, 'They're going to start the day already excited about learning, because they just had an opportunity to be engaged in a physical activity.'"


Original source: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-04-04/news/bs-md-ar-germantown-elementary-spark-20130403_1_spark-officials-kindergarten-teacher-education-program


Parents, food service directors debate snacks sneaking into kids’ diets at school

April 15, 2013, The Washington Post

By Lynh Bui

Over the din of sixth-grade lunch hour at Takoma Park Middle School, a student put down his juice and hollered: “He’s a genius! An ice cream sandwich-sandwich!”

At the other end of the table, a 12-year-old boy who had just finished a hamburger began shoving two ice cream sandwiches stacked together into his mouth.

Popsicles and a bag of chips are as easy to buy as a salad and an apple in the cafeteria of this school in Montgomery County. School officials say the snacks are healthy, meeting strict guidelines for fat, sugar and calories. But those assurances aren’t enough for some Montgomery parents, who worry about artificial dyes, processed foods and the occasional “ice cream sandwich-sandwich” sneaking into their kids’ diets.

“It’s the basic mom question, which is, ‘Should this kid be eating this at all?’ ” said Karen Devitt, co-founder of Real Food for Kids — Montgomery.

Across the country, school lunch directors, nutritionists, and parents like Devitt are asking the same question as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) crafts new federal nutrition standards limiting sugar, fat, and sodium for school snacks and drinks. The rules would be the first update to school snack guidelines in more than 30 years and would come as first lady Michelle Obama continues to take aim at childhood obesity. About one-third of children in the United States are either overweight or obese.

The mandates will be controversial. School districts worry that changes to snack guidelines will reduce food sales that help keep cafeteria budgets balanced. They also say the rules could limit some children from eating enough calories because recent federal rules shrank the size of school meals.

Others say the proposed guidelines don’t go far enough. High-fat potato chips, candy bars and sugary sodas will be out, but flavored milks or low-fat yogurts with nearly the same sugar content as certain chocolate bars could be in.

One person’s healthy snack is junk food in the eyes of another. USDA officials say the intent of the proposed standards is not to limit popular snack items but to provide healthier options for students.

“Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and this proposal will ensure they have healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars,” a USDA spokesman said.

“There’s definitely a balance to be struck there between healthfulness and keeping it appealing for kids,” said Lindsey Turner, a health psychologist and research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I don’t think it’s an either or proposition.”

Turner co-authored a report released last year that found that nearly half of all public and private elementary school students could buy snacks in schools. Much of the food was sugary, fatty, or salty with little nutritional value.

Proponents of changes from the USDA say that easy access is exactly why the federal government should create new rules. At least 39 states and individual school systems have nutrition guidelines for snacks, but the standards vary.

“It’s all over the map,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “There are some states in which the majority of schools are still selling regular chips and chocolate candy, and there are states where almost none are doing that.”

A majority of middle and high schools don’t offer fruit or vegetables in snack bars or vending machines, according to a report from the Pew project.

J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, said some school guidelines are so strict that students have skirted the rules by selling candy bars and soda from out of their lockers and cars.

“The foods cannot fall below a certain minimum threshold of being palatable,” Wilson said. Otherwise, “the healthfulness of the food is lost because the kids aren’t eating.”

The proposed minimum USDA guidelines would generally require snack foods to contain fewer than 200 calories a serving, with no more than 35 percent of the calories or weight coming from sugar or fat, and less than 200 milligrams of sodium a portion. The guidelines would prohibit trans fats and require that less than 10 percent of snack calories come from saturated fats.

They would also require that snack foods be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food or a “whole-grain rich” grain product or contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of a nutrient such as calcium, potassium, or vitamin D.

The beverage guidelines would eliminate sugary soda. Students would be able to buy water, low-fat plain milk, and non-fat plain or flavored milk. Juices would also have to be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with portion limits.

A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children in school systems operating under strict laws regulating the nutrition of snack foods consumed less fat, sugar, and calories and were less likely to be obese by the end of middle school. Children on average consume 30 percent to 50 percent of their calories in school.

Some school food services directors say that guidelines that are too strict could hurt their budgets. Often, the amount school systems spend on providing students with free and reduced-price meals is more than what they get reimbursed for from the federal government. Snack sales help offset that.

“The revenue generated helps our bottom line,” said Marla Caplon, director of food and nutrition services for the Montgomery school system, which serves more than 70,000 meals a day. In fiscal 2010, Montgomery schools made $6.8 million on a la carte and snack sales, about 17 percent of the district’s $40.3 million revenue collections for the department of food and nutrition services.

Montgomery and other school systems in the Washington, D.C., region have similar or stricter guidelines than those the USDA is proposing. Public schools in the District ban flavored milk with added sweeteners or artificial flavors. And at the request of parent activists, the Fairfax County school system has cut the amount of artificial dyes, preservatives, and other additives from food by 80 percent.

JoAnne Hammermaster, president of Real Food for Kids, the umbrella organization that launched in Fairfax before the Montgomery parents group formed, said it’s not about eliminating snacks from schools but finding ways to give students healthy options.

“We have a captive audience when our kids are at school,” Hammermaster said. “It’s a perfect opportunity to teach them and give them examples of how to live a healthier lifestyle.”

Hammermaster said that the USDA’s proposed snack food guidelines are a good first step but that it’s important for parents such as Devitt in Montgomery to keep pushing for higher standards.

“We offer a decent lunch program, but if pizza is still considered a vegetable by government standards, then we have to take that extra step beyond just what the USDA is saying,” Hammermaster said. “Even if the Pop-Tart has the whole grain, it’s still a Pop-Tart.”

At Takoma Park Middle School students could buy everything from low-fat yogurts, apples, and milk to gummy snacks, crispy rice treats, chips, and juice smoothies. Other schools in the district sell 100 percent fruit juices, in which an 8-ounce serving has as many calories and almost as much sugar as a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola. The juice, however, has vitamins and other nutritional value, unlike the soda.

In the cafeteria at lunch hour, sixth-grader Austin Axenfeld’s teeth and lips were stained blue. He had just finished a berry fruit-juice slush and sat a few tables away from the boy who had the “ice cream sandwich-sandwich.”

“I usually get the green apple soda,” Axenfeld said as he finished popping gummy snacks into his mouth.

Austin’s mother, Cheryl, said she has been teaching her 12-year-old son about reading nutrition labels and the problems with eating too many sweets.

“He loves the gummy snacks,” Axenfeld said. “He thinks they’re healthy because they have the word ‘fruit’ in them.”

Despite the school system’s nutritional standards, Axenfeld said she doesn’t like that her son has access to smoothies and gummy candy at school.

She also has to take extra care to monitor the purchases he makes because Austin’s school allows parents to use an automatic debit system to buy food.

“He’s by himself with an unlimited spending account and a whole bunch of sugary food in front of him,” Axenfeld said. “Kid in a candy shop is pretty much accurate.”


Original source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/parents-food-service-directors-debate-snacks-sneaking-into-kids-diets-at-school/2013/04/14/37de3654-8ff5-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html