E-Newsletter
May 2014


SPOTLIGHT

PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS


SPOTLIGHT

NCCOR explores recent childhood obesity declines research in new webinar

May 13, 2014, NCCOR

Recent data has shown that childhood obesity rates are falling in many communities across the nation. In the latest installment of its Connect & Explore Webinar Series, the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) is examining the implications of this research, discussing lessons learned from public health leaders in communities experiencing these declines, and considering how these findings can be applied.

Join us at 2 pm, Eastern, on Thursday, June 12, for Connect & Explore: A Deeper Dive into Childhood Obesity Declines.

In just under an hour, we will: explore recent data showing declines in childhood obesity rates; hear insights from representatives of communities where childhood obesity decreases have been reported; and learn how to translate these findings for policy makers and the public. Speakers include:

  • Patricia B. Crawford, DrPH, RD, Director, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, University of California at Berkeley
  • Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC
  • Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH, Health Director, Granville and Vance Counties, North Carolina
  • Genoveva Islas-Hooker, MPH, Regional Program Coordinator, Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program

Also during our program:

  • Get introduced to funding opportunities from those that helped shape and support the funding announcements.
  • Hear about hot topics in childhood obesity, such as how USDA is exploring the effect of the food environment on household food purchasing decisions with the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

“Connect & Explore provides a unique platform for participants to hear lessons learned from a variety of leaders in the childhood obesity field including those on the front lines of obesity prevention,” said Laura Kettel Khan, NCCOR steering committee member and senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This event is free but attendance is limited, so tell a friend and register today! Please also consider sharing this information on your social networks using the hashtag #ConnectandExplore. We will also be live tweeting the event so be sure to follow the conversation @NCCOR. For those who cannot attend, the webinar will be recorded and archived on www.nccor.org.

To receive the webinar access information, you must register for this event:

Register for Connect & Explore: A Deeper Dive into Childhood Obesity Declines

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PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS

New NIH podcast explores research showing childhood obesity often starts before age 5

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recently released a podcast discussing an NIH-funded study that found an increased risk of obesity among children who enter kindergarten overweight. Host Barrett Whitener is joined by Dr. Solveig Cunningham, the lead author of the study. The study showed that overweight kindergarteners were four times more likely than normal weight children to become extremely overweight, or obese, by the eighth grade. The results suggest that by focusing obesity prevention efforts on children who are overweight by age 5 years old, can help kids who are most susceptible to becoming obese later in life.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

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RWJF’s Bridging the Gap program releases new state law data and tools

Bridging the Gap (BTG), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has recently updated its website, including a new page featuring state-level obesity-related laws. The website updates also include new data files on state-level sales taxes on soda, bottled water, and snack foods as well as non-sales tax rates on soda and bottled water. Annual data (now including years, 1997-2014) are available for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The tax data are available here.

A number of data files have also been added to the coding tools state-level wellness policy related laws. Data files reflect state laws from school years 2006-2013 that relate to school wellness policies generally, including: nutrition education, school meals, competitive foods and beverages, physical activity, physical education, staff wellness, communications and messaging, marketing and promotion, implementation and evaluation, and reporting. Codebooks, coding guides, and state law citations are also provided. A detailed variable-by-variable and by-year frequency document also is available.

BTG has also added a new data file on their website which includes Safe Routes to School related laws. Annual data are available for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including laws effective from 2005-2011.

ACCESS THESE TOOLS

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Study examines availability of drinking water in U.S. schools

More than 85 percent of public school students attended schools in 2011-2012 that met a new requirement for providing access to free drinking water during school meals in the location where they were served, according to a new study from Bridging the Gap.

Researchers noted that most students attended schools that met the drinking requirement through existing drinking fountains — the study also found that only half of middle and high school students attended schools where the administrator reported that the drinking fountains were very clean. About 25 percent of those students attended schools where the administrator self-reported at least “a little” concern about the quality of water in the drinking fountains.

READ THE BRIEF

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New online calculator gauges how snacks measure up to USDA school vending guidelines

Alliance for a Healthier Generation has posted a “Smart Snacks” calculator on its website, which allows users to enter nutritional information about a specific product to see if it meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture Smart Snacks in School guidelines. The product calculator uses the type of product, first ingredient, serving size, calories, fat, sodium, and sugars to determine compliance. If the product is not compliant, the calculator displays the reason, such as calories from total fat exceed 35 percent.

TRY THE CALCULATOR

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RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Obesity studies tell two stories, both right

April 14, 2014, The New York Times

By Sabrina Tavernise

Researchers at the University of North Carolina published a paper last week that introduced another wrinkle into the debate about childhood obesity. They disputed recent findings that obesity among young children had fallen since 2004, arguing that a longer view — using data all the way back to 1999 — showed that these youngsters were not really getting any thinner.

So which view is correct? The answer seems to be both.

Obesity has become a major health problem in the United States, affecting about 17 percent of Americans ages 2 to 19 years old, up from about 5 percent in the early 1970s. The rate rose for years but then leveled off, and the current debate centers on whether obesity has begun to decline in the youngest of these children.

The question has drawn considerable attention not just because scientists disagree on the answer, but also because it has a political dimension: The issue has been vigorously championed by Michelle Obama, the first lady.

The North Carolina researchers and the federal team that produced the earlier findings both relied on the same data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It is considered the gold standard in health research because height and weight are measured by a health professional, not the respondents themselves.

But instead of looking only at the past decade of data on children ages 2 to 5 years old, the North Carolina researchers looked at 14 years worth [of data]. An unusual spike in obesity among these children in 2003 created the false appearance of a later decline, they concluded, so comparing 2012 to 1999 gave a truer view of the trends.

Over the longer period, the researchers found that obesity remained flat in that young age group. “When we look at the bigger picture, the change is not there,” said Asheley Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina and the lead author of the study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics. “I want this to remain a public health issue.”

Federal researchers who led the original analysis, published in JAMA, are standing by their results. Their study found that about 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004 — the first statistically significant decline for any group.

Cynthia L. Ogden, the lead author of that study and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasized that the finding should be interpreted cautiously because the age group represents a tiny fraction of the American population and the figures for youth more broadly had remained flat.

“Trends over different time periods can show different results,” Dr. Ogden said in an email. She pointed out that several other studies have detected patterns of decline among young children, including one by researchers in Massachusetts in 2012 and an analysis of data from a large federal maternal-child feeding program in 2013.

Ruth Loos, a professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said one reason the two studies reached differing conclusions is simply that in 1999, which the North Carolina study took as a beginning, the obesity rate was about 10 percent in these young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study began with data from 2004, when the rate was about 14 percent.

“Both studies report basically the same data and use similar tests,” Dr. Loos said. “The difference in conclusion is due to the different starting point.”

Michael P. Eriksen, the dean of the school of public health at Georgia State University, cautioned that examining small subgroups, like toddlers, reduces statistical precision and may have led to imprecise findings. He said he was puzzled by the sudden drop in obesity among toddlers in the most recent period from 12 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2012.

“Why is there such a large drop over such a short time frame, when no other young people had any reduction whatsoever?” he said. Only the next set of data will determine whether that number was an anomaly, he said.

It took years for public health experts to document obesity as an important health problem, and it will probably take years more to be certain about a decline, Dr. Loos said. Eventually the numbers now bouncing around will settle into a clear pattern.

In the meantime, health experts still face a momentous task.

“The bottom line is that there is still a huge amount of obesity,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta. “There may be isolated, individual places where there are decreases, but it’s very hard to interpret that until you get more data points. From a public health action perspective, this debate doesn’t change anything we might do.”

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Original source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/health/obesity-studies-tell-two-stories-both-right.html?_r=0

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Price tag for childhood obesity: $19,000 per kid

April 7, 2014, USA Today

By Michelle Healy

Over a lifetime, the medical costs associated with childhood obesity total about $19,000 per child compared with those for a child of normal weight, a new analysis shows.

The costs are about $12,900 per person for children of normal weight who become overweight or obese in adulthood, according to the analysis by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and published online March 31 in the journal Pediatrics.

The $19,000 estimate reflects direct medical costs such as doctor visits and medication but not indirect costs such as absenteeism and lost productivity into adulthood. The cost is "large, although perhaps not as large as some people would have guessed," says lead author Eric Finkelstein, a health economist.

"In the case of childhood obesity, the real costs do not occur until decades later when these kids get adult health problems at a greater rate," he says.

Obesity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and a wide range of other diseases. About one in three adults and nearly one in five children in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The estimates highlight "the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset," Finkelstein says.

The study notes that when multiplied by the number of all obese 10-year-olds in the United States today, the lifetime medical costs for this age alone reaches roughly $14 billion. That's nearly twice the Department of Health and Human Services' $7.8-billion budget for the Head Start program in fiscal year 2012, the analysis says.

To determine the estimates, researchers evaluated and updated existing research on lifetime costs of childhood obesity, focusing on six published studies.

The per-child estimates are valuable when looking at cost effectiveness, says John Cawley, co-director of the Institute on Health Economics, Health Behaviors and Disparities at Cornell University. He was not involved in the latest study.

If a new school-based intervention program is developed to decrease the probability of childhood obesity by a certain percentage, "you can use the numbers in the study to figure out what kind of savings that applies to the health care system," Cawley says.

The $19,000 estimate is more than the roughly $16,930 the College Board says one year of college costs at a public four-year institution, including tuition, fees, books, room and board, and other expenses.

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Original source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/07/childhood-obesity-costs/7298461/  

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Severe childhood obesity on the rise in United States

April 7, 2014, CBS News

By Jessica Firger

Childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States after all, according to a new report published in JAMA Pediatrics. Most alarming, the study finds an increase in the number of children with severe forms of obesity, whose body mass index (BMI) measured 120 to 140 percent higher than children of average healthy weight.

The analysis is based on 14 years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 26,690 children aged 2 to 19 years old.

"Kids in the most severely obese group really need treatment that is medical treatment," Dr. Asheley Cockrell Skinner, the lead author of this study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told CBS News. "There are a lot of programs that are family based, lifestyle programs for families that need to learn a lot."

The study's findings may take many by surprise, given a recent highly-publicized report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in February in JAMA, which found obesity rates have declined in children aged 2 to 5 years old, by as much as 43 percent.

The paper found 17.3 percent of children ages 2 to 19 years old were obese in 2011-2012. Among this group, 5.9 percent of children met the guidelines for class 2 obesity, while 2.1 percent of children met class 3 guidelines.

Class 2 and class 3 are the most severe forms of obesity.

Though the analysis indicates the prevalence of all forms of obesity have increased overall, the rate increases were most significant among Hispanic females and black males.

Overweight was defined as children with a BMI in the 85th percentile for age and gender, while obesity was defined as greater than or equal to the 95th percentile. Class 2 and class 3 obesity were defined as a BMI of 120 and 140 percent of the 95th percentile, respectively. For example, a 10-year-old boy who is 4.5 feet tall and weighs 95 pounds would be considered obese. At 115 pounds, he would meet the guidelines for class 2 obesity and at 130 pounds he would meet the guidelines for class 3 obesity.

The authors of the study say the discrepancy between the two studies is due to the number of years accounted for in each paper. While the CDC also looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, that report is based only on results from the last decade compared with Skinner's report, which utilized 14 years of data.

Skinner and her fellow researchers acknowledge their study still provides relatively limited data on obesity rates by age, race, gender and family socioeconomic status.

Additionally the authors of the report say more research must be done to examine childhood obesity trends on a state level. Though some public health initiatives for children are implemented on a national level, many are not. Therefore it is difficult to ascertain which state and city-wide programs are helping children to maintain healthy weight.

"I think the possibility that kids are becoming more severely obese when they are younger, they are going to become sicker as younger adults," said Skinner. "We know with diabetes the younger you start the harder it is to manage it. It makes me worry about what's happening in their bodies that's going to follow them into adulthood."

However, what experts do point out is the cost of medical care for obese children is significantly higher than care for a child in the healthy rage of weight. Another study published April 7 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found the lifetime cost of medical care for an obese child is $19,000 more than the cost of care for a child of healthy weight.

More programs and initiatives that educate children about healthy lifestyle decisions might help cut down on pediatric medical expenses and also reduce spending on medical care for adult onset health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

***

Original source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/in-the-us-childhood-obesity-is-a-heavy-burden/

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Most children are confused by the message in healthy fast food ads

April 2, 2014, Red Orbit

By Brett Smith

Fast food companies have been making a push over the past few years to include healthier options for their kids’ meals, but that message may not be getting across — especially to the kids themselves.

A new study published on April 1 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that about one-half to one-third of children do not properly identify the healthier milk and apple slices options shown in freeze-framed television advertisements.

In one ad image used in the study, Burger King apple slices were depicted inside an oval container typically used for french fries — and identified as such by kids 90 percent of the time.

“And I see some…are those apples slices?” one child asked the researcher showing her the images.

“I can’t tell you…you just have to say what you think they are,” the researchers replied.

“I think they’re french fries,” the child said.

“Burger King’s depiction of apple slices as ‘Fresh Apple Fries’ was misleading to children in the target age range,” said study author Dr. James Sargent, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Dartmouth College’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction.”

The study team said their research, which included 99 children ages 3 to 7 years old, was designed to look at the perception of McDonald’s and Burger King campaigns to advertise apples and milk in their kids’ meals. The team looked at ads from these companies targeted at children from July 2010-June 2011. In this study, scientists used “freeze frames” of kids meals displayed in TV ads that were frequently shown on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other cable channels that feature children’s programming.

Of the four healthy food depictions examined, only McDonald’s display of apple slices was acknowledged as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience, 52 percent, despite age of the child. The scientists discovered that the other three representations were simply examples of poor communication from the company.

The new study builds on an earlier analysis from the same team, which discovered that McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising highlighted free gifts like toys to cultivate children’s brand awareness for a particular fast food restaurant. These campaigns are developed despite self-imposed directions by the fast food industry designed to deter this practice.

While the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have critical regulatory roles over food labels and advertising, the Better Business Bureau runs a self-regulatory program for children’s advertising. Two distinct programs offer directions to make children’s advertising centered on the food, not toys – and, more explicitly, on foods with significant nutritional value.

“The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to $200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can’t even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented,” Sargent said.

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Original source: http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1113110971/healthy-fast-food-ads-confuse-children-040214/

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS

Singling out 'fat' children isn't helping them lose weight

April 15, 2014, Desert News

By Emilee Eagar

Men and women trickled into a small conference room on April 15 in Provo, Utah. Before they could take their seats, they were asked to step on a scale.

"Should I take my bags off?," one woman asked after peering around the corner and eyeing down the scale for several tense seconds.

"Uh-oh," a man said. "Step on the scale with my computer and all?"

"Can I take off my shoes?"

But as they stepped up and looked down, their entire countenance changed.

"I'm between adorable and cute," one woman said of the reading.

Another weighed in at "perfect" on the special scale.

It was all part of a discussion among public and private health partners from across the state on effective messages to help, not harm in the fight against obesity in Utah.

The class was part of a two-day Public Health Conference for the state, presented by the Utah Public Health Association to discuss various topics, including Alzheimer's disease, asthma, first aid, gonorrhea, and social media use.

"Focus on the health, not the size, not the weight," Terri Sory, chronic disease program manager for the Salt Lake County Health Department. "Get back to basics. So, eat healthy foods, exercise, and then love yourself."

Sory presented research with Beverly Neville, who does health promotion for the Salt Lake County Health Department. They encouraged those in the public health field to take a more positive approach with patients.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed "morbidly obese," "fat," and "obese" were rated the most undesirable, stigmatizing, and blaming words health providers could use. The terms "overweight" and "unhealthy weight" were rated the most motivating words to lose weight.

Neville said studies show that an approach to obesity similar to anti-smoking campaigns may be too harsh, and it discourages those battling their weight.

"There is a lot of diversity," Neville said. "Admit there's size diversity and focus on the health rather than the weight."

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner.

Rachel Lacy, who works in the obesity prevention program for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said mothers frequently ask her how to discuss food and exercise with their daughters.

"It’s so important as an adult to set the example," she said. Don't focus on your own size, weigh yourself constantly, or worry about the next diet.

Instead, talk about "exercising and being active with your family because it’s fun, because you enjoy it together."

But breaking down social norms is a constant battle, she said. Several factors lead to obesity.

"Unfortunately it’s kind of a social norm that most people perceive obese or larger people as lazy, or whatever the stigmas are," Lacy said. "On the flip side, we also see people who maybe be thinner or smaller as super healthy."

Neville said the worst thing a parent can do is single out one "chubby" child.

Instead, the entire family should focus on health and work on it together.

"Providing healthy foods, providing healthy snacks, having set meal times should be something the whole family does," she said. "It's a family health thing, and not singling out of a child."

Mary Lou Adams with the Weber County Health Department said she liked the new positive approach but said it is a tough goal.

"Appearance makes a big difference to a lot of people," she said. "They don't know how to separate the health part, between the health part and what people look like. It's just a hard concept."

Ashley Ottley said she often associates her own health with body size.

"I always say to myself, 'I could lose like 10, 20 pounds,'" she said. "When, really, I should say, 'I could eat more fruits and vegetables. I should do 30 more minutes of exercising than what I'm doing, rather than focusing on the result of what I actually see.'"

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Original source: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865601098/Singling-out-fat-children-isnt-helping-them-lose-weight.html?pg=all

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Minneapolis leader turns school cafeterias into 'real kitchens'

March 3, 2014, Education Week

By Lesli A. Maxwell

Bertrand Weber had devoted his professional life — in boutique hotels and high-end restaurants — to pleasing the most discerning of palates.

But the breaded chicken nuggets and canned fruit swimming in syrup he saw on his son's lunch tray pushed the longtime hotel and restaurant manager to swap a career in stylish hospitality for the decidedly less posh world of school cafeterias.

He was determined to transform what K-12 students in Minnesota eat at school.

"We were pumping our kids with processed food," said Mr. Weber. "I became an angry parent."

Now, more than a decade later, Mr. Weber is the director of culinary and nutrition services for the 36,000 student Minneapolis district, where he is overseeing a massive shift in what students in that city encounter in their cafeterias.

He is steadily phasing out prepackaged meals assembled in a central kitchen and trucked to school lunchrooms and replacing them with meals made from scratch and featuring fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats, and other ingredients that are locally sourced.

Butternut-squash turkey chili, heirloom-tomato salsas, and fresh salad bars are becoming fixtures in Minneapolis' school lunchrooms.

What makes the ongoing transformation in Minneapolis remarkable is that Mr. Weber has done it with a food-service budget considerably smaller than those of similarly sized districts. When he came on board in January 2012, Minneapolis' food budget was $15.6 million, compared with $23 million across the Mississippi River in the neighboring, and slightly bigger, St. Paul school district.

And he is doing it in a district where most of the 62 schools do not have fully functioning kitchens.

"It's a really smart tactic he's using to raise the image of his program so that participation rates go up and [he can] raise more revenue to do all the things he wants to do," said Jean Ronnei, the chief of operations for the St. Paul district and the vice president of the School Nutrition Association. "For 30 years, if you talked about school food in Minneapolis, you were talking about airline-type food. He is completely changing that, and with it, completely changing people's minds about what food is in that school system."

Personal mission

Born in Switzerland, Mr. Weber, 57, brings a missionary's zeal to the job of school food. And for very personal reasons.

His son, at age 7 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, requiring daily doses of insulin and close monitoring of his food intake.

"I went to lunch with him every day in that first year after his diagnosis," Mr. Weber said. "The last things he needed were exactly the things being served in the cafeteria every day: highly refined carbohydrates and canned, syrupy fruit. I complained endlessly about the food."

A short time later, his son's district — Hopkins, in surburban Minneapolis — launched a search for a new food-services director who had a hospitality background like Mr. Weber's.

"My family said to me that if I didn't apply for the job, I could never complain about school food again," he said. "They were right."

He landed the job. Mr. Weber led the food-services program for three years in the 7,400-student Hopkins district, where he was able to introduce more fresh produce, purchase local food products, and involve students and the community in the planning of menus. He pushed hard to eliminate trans fats in Hopkins, years ahead of the recent federal mandate to do so.

From there, he left for a job overseeing nutrition and culinary standards for a privately owned food-management company that helped more than 180 districts across Minnesota and other Midwestern states bring fresh fruit and vegetable bars to school lunchrooms. He also got involved in the growing movement known as Farm to School and currently serves on the national network's executive committee.

"That was a great opportunity to impact more kids," he said.

Then, in 2011, the Minneapolis district's longtime food-services director retired, and prominent members of the city's local food movement urged Mr. Weber to go after the job.

First, he did some due diligence. He found that lunch participation districtwide was 58 percent, a dismal rate compared with St. Paul, where participation was at 78 percent. Cincinnati, a district of similar size and demographics, had a 70 percent participation rate. There was lots of room to grow, he thought, and the challenge of expanding and improving the meals program within the constraints of a public school district's budget appealed to him.

But he also thought his candor in the job interview might backfire.

"I was very straightforward that if they wanted someone to do the status quo, go right over me," Mr. Weber said. "And I said, if you want me for the job, it's going to be about changing the system for kids."

A real kitchen

In his first few months on the job, Mr. Weber went face to face with parents and students in multiple community meetings, soliciting their critical feedback.

"People were appalled by the food service, and I told them I was just as appalled," he said. "I told them some ideas we had for making things better, but I also was very upfront that this was going to take time. I couldn't just flip one switch and go from a food-packing plant to a real kitchen."

For starters, even the district's central kitchen had been stripped of nearly all its cooking equipment in the mid-1990s. There were no ovens. No steamers.

Still, to deliver as soon as possible on promises to bring real, or "true" foods into lunchrooms, Mr. Weber and his team began installing salad bars in some of the city's schools. To pay for the first few, he tapped into his existing budget, but then quickly began seeking grants and other outside sources of revenue to cover the expenses.

As of last month, half the district's schools were offering the fresh-produce carts, which feature items such as spinach, cherry tomatoes, cantaloupe, pears, three-bean salad, and couscous salad.

"It was important for us to get kids off fruit wrapped in plastic packages," he said. "And it was a way to get skeptical parents paying for their kids to eat lunch at school again."

Mr. Weber also began making immediate changes to the menus. Hot dogs were sourced from a local cattle company that raises grass-fed beef and were served on buns baked by school district cooks. And the Tater Tot hot dish — a beloved school lunch item in Minnesota — was revamped to be cooked from scratch by the district's head chef in the central kitchen and assembled by school-based cafeteria staff.

But beyond parents, Mr. Weber had two other critical groups to persuade to embrace his vision for real food: students and his food-services staff.

To reel in students — especially hard-to-impress teenagers — he decided to test new recipes and menu items one day a week in select schools. Students at one high school quickly dubbed Thursdays "Real Food Day" and were enthusiastic about many of the new offerings like Asian cole slaw and fresh-baked ciabatta bread.

A year and a half later, lunchroom meals in some high schools have become so popular that students who usually left campus for lunch are staying, but not everyone who wants to eat in the cafeteria can because of time and space constraints.

"We're maxed out in our high schools," he said.

Mr. Weber said the biggest pushback he got initially came from older employees in food services and the union that represents them. "Some people worried we were making too many changes that were affecting people who had been here a long time," he said. To help ease the transition, Mr. Weber offered culinary classes and prep-cook training for staff members who needed support in moving away from the assembly-line approach to food service.

Attracting customers

Bernadeia H. Johnson, the superintendent in Minneapolis, credits Mr. Weber for "revolutionizing" school lunches in the district.

"Our students are eating healthier meals that keep them satisfied for a day of quality learning and instruction," she said in a statement. "Lunch menus are full of variety and often introduce students to new and different fresh ingredients, including foods that reflect the ethnicities of our students."

Since Mr. Weber started just over two years ago, overall participation in the district's meals program has grown from 58 percent to 66 percent, most of it among the 35 percent of students who pay full price. Participation among those who qualify for free- and reduced-price meals has also ticked up, from 72.5 percent in 2011 to 87.5 percent. To help pay for the array of food and nutrition initiatives spearheaded by Mr. Weber, lunch prices have been raised by a dime, but only for students who pay full price. Mr. Weber also has begun serving breakfast in classrooms in 20 schools, with plans to expand.

With 30 more salad bars to install and most schools still without kitchens and equipment to do on-site cooking, though, Mr. Weber and his team have hustled to raise private money to keep their momentum going. A local fitness company and General Mills are among the benefactors who are backing the efforts.

He's also found creative ways to buy local, organically raised food products within his budget.

Among the 60,000 pounds of local produce he bought for the district last fall was one farmer's entire kale crop, damaged in a hail storm.

"We were going to chop it up anyway," he said. "And it gave us a healthy vegetable to introduce to our kids."

Mr. Weber has also drawn on his deep connections to local chefs and restaurant owners to persuade them to get involved in recipe development for the district. In turn, the chefs have agreed to endorse the recipes they create for school lunches on their own menus.

"He's getting great support and publicity for what he's doing," said Ms. Ronnei of the St. Paul district. "Chefs endorsing school food? What a message that sends to the community."

***

Original source: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/05/23ltlf-weber.h33.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1

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School yoga program stretches out

April 23, 2014, U-T San Diego

By Gary Warth

The foundation that created a yoga program that sparked a lawsuit and drew international attention to the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) has quietly introduced similar programs to two other county schools and to schools in New York.

Gene Ruffin, executive director of the Sonima Foundation, said at an open house on April 23 at the foundation’s headquarters in Encinitas, Calif., that there has been no controversy in the program’s expansion, and he expects to announce two more schools where yoga will be introduced in the near future.

A University of San Diego researcher who attended the open house said a study on the effects of the yoga program in Encinitas has been completed and that it showed yoga had a positive effect on students’ health.

“The results have been fantastic,” Ruffin said.

In 2012, Sonima — then called the K.P. Jois Foundation — gave the EUSD $533,000 to begin a yoga program and to fund a study of its effects. Last summer the foundation gave another $1.4 million to expand the program to all Encinitas Union schools as part of district’s health and wellness curriculum.

The foundation had planned to create a yoga curriculum in Encinitas that could be introduced to other schools, but things got off to a bumpy start when some parents sued the district, arguing the yoga program was religious and a violation of laws regarding the separation of church and state.

Many other families, however, agreed with district officials who saw the yoga program as little more than stretching exercises.

Although the district had changed the name of poses to “crisscross applesauce” and other child-friendly, secular terms, a lawsuit filed by attorney Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy, argued that the very act of practicing yoga could lead to interest in Hinduism and other Eastern beliefs.

The lawsuit attracted international media attention and concluded last July with San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer siding with the school district.

The ruling has been appealed, but the foundation has not stopped expanding in the meantime.

In San Diego County, the program has been in practice at the Monarch School for homeless children for about a year. For the past three months, it also has been in a pilot program at two schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District [also in California].

EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird did not attend the April 23 open house because coincidentally he was the keynote speaker at the Yoga in Our Schools conference in New York.

Leighangela Brady, assistant superintendent of educational services … [for EUSD], spoke about yoga in the district and credited it with helping reducing excused absences, an indication that students are healthier.

“Campus behavior is improving,” she said. “Student achievement and emotional wellness is all being positively affected by yoga in our schools.”

Erin Spiewak, CEO of Monarch School, said students at her school have more stress than other children their age because they are homeless, and yoga has helped them relax and be self-reflective. Without the program in their school, she said, the students probably would not have access to yoga.

David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District, said yoga has been introduced in Bostonia and Madison elementary schools with none of the controversy it encountered in Encinitas.

As a former Encinitas assistant superintendent who helped create the yoga curriculum in his old district, Miyashiro has first-hand knowledge of the controversy.

Ruffin said the program also has been smoothly introduced in inner-city New York schools. The program is in three schools in the Harlem Village Academy charter school, Broome Street Academy for homeless children and East Community High School.

Ruffin read a letter from the East Community High principal, who praised the program.

“One student after another has come to me and said yoga allows them to relax and focus,” he said.

Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at USD, said the first year of a three-year study on the program has shown several positive effects on students.

Compared with students who did not practice yoga, students who did the exercises had more flexibility and had more core strength in the state fitness exam.

Himelstein also said the study found that students who were less fit liked yoga while they may not have liked other activities.

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Original source: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/Apr/23/student-yoga-program-stretches-out/?#article-copy

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