ATLANTA — With changes in school lunches taking effect this year due to the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, last month officially designated National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month by President Obama, and November being American Diabetes Month, nutrition in schools is certainly a hot topic.
The topic, however, is not a new one for the Georgia Association of School Nurses (GASN), a group that has already been working hard to promote good nutrition and healthy eating in schools.
Georgia school nurses have always worked in conjunction with school nutrition professionals, as well as parents and primary care doctors, when serving students with special dietary needs, such as diabetics.
School nurses create an individual plan to ensure diabetic children receive blood glucose monitoring, snacks, healthy meals and insulin doses at the appropriate intervals to control blood sugar levels and meet their unique health needs, says Carol Darsey, president of GASN and lead nurse for the Liberty County School System. And for all schoolchildren, “School meals are very important,” emphasizes Nancy Rice, RD, LD, SNS, the state director of the School Nutrition Division for the Georgia Department of Education.
Students eat approximately 17 percent of their meals each year in school.
In Georgia, schools feed more than 1.5 million children on a daily basis.
According to the USDA, National School Lunch Program participants are more likely than non-participants to consume vegetables, milk/milk products, and meat and other protein-rich foods, both at lunch and over 24 hours.
They also consume less soda and/or fruit drinks.
Rice states, “School meals are required, by federal law, to meet recommendations set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2010. In addition, studies have shown that The National School Lunch Program improves the health outcomes of children who reside in low-income households, reducing the prevalence of food insecurity by 3.8 percent, poor general health by 29%, and the rate of obesity by at least 17 percent.”
Rice continues, “In addition, the American Journal of Public Health found that children tend to gain more weight during the summer time as opposed to when they are in school. The study stated that ‘it appears that they [schools] are healthier than most children’s non-school environments.’”
Felicia Thomas, RN, school nurse at Jack P. Nix Primary School (JPN), has “taken on the obesity epidemic among our country’s youth,” according to Missy Jarrard, counselor at JPN. Jarrard says, “Out of concern for the potential health hazards of childhood obesity, she wrote a grant that awarded our school with the funds to implement the ‘Fuel Up To Play 60’ program. Not only did this grant help to fund additional equipment for our Physical Education program, but it also enabled Felicia to create ‘The Dino Diner’ at our school.”
The Dino Diner is a room fitted with a kitchen where Thomas teaches students (and sometimes, after school, their parents) about the importance of nutrition and how to make healthy and inexpensive snacks, which the kids then get to eat.
Thomas also coordinates Backpack Buddies, a program designed to provide students in need with food over the weekend. The community contributes food and donates money to pay for nutritious and easy-to-prepare meals and snacks, and Thomas coordinates the program by sending home permission slips, shopping for food, stocking the pantry and packing the backpacks.
GASN and the school nutrition professionals who are trained by the state department and receive the most recent and up-to-date information from the USDA regarding school meals hope to keep making a difference in the lives of students through nutrition education and healthy school meals.
Rice says, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 complements the work that we, as school nutrition professionals, do on a daily basis. I was honored to be a guest at the White House and at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington, DC for the signing of this important and monumental legislation. It set in motion the New Meal Pattern that was implemented for this school year, which has given schools the opportunity to receive an additional six cents in meal reimbursement. The foundation of school meals is to insure that children are not hungry in school. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 validated its importance, and it has already proven to make a difference in our nation.”