Friday, May 9, 2008

Study finds that school-based nutrition programs reduce numbers of students who become overweight

There's an encouraging study in the April 2008 issue of Pediatrics about the role of schools in overweight and obesity prevention.

For the study, The Food Trust in Philadelphia created a school nutrition policy initiative that was tested in 10 public schools to see how effective school-based nutrition programs (including nutrition policy changes, social marketing and family outreach) can be at influencing overweight and obesity in students in grades 4-6.

Here's the key finding:

The intervention resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of overweight. Significantly fewer children in the intervention schools (7.5%) than in the control schools (14.9%) became overweight after 2 years.
The entire study report is available on the Pediatrics website.

Forgive the lengthy post, but I wanted to include the basic information on what school interventions were used. Here's an excerpt from the report:

"The SNPI included the following components: (1) school self-assessment; (2) nutrition education; (3) nutrition policy; (4) social marketing; and (5) parent outreach. Each component is described briefly below. A more detailed description of the intervention is available at

Self-Assessment. Schools assessed their environments by using the CDC School Health Index.13 Each school formed a Nutrition Advisory Group to guide the assessment. Teams included administrators, teachers, nurses, coaches, and parents. After completing ratings on healthy eating and physical activity, schools developed an action plan for change. Schools proposed various strategies, such as limiting the use of food as reward, punishment, or for fundraising; promoting active recess; and serving breakfast in classrooms to increase the number of students eating a healthy breakfast.

Staff Training. All of the school staff in the intervention schools were offered 10 hours per year of training in nutrition education. At these trainings, staff received curricula and supporting materials such as Planet Health4 and Know Your Body,14 as well as nutrition and physical activity theme packets designed to integrate classroom lessons, cafeteria promotions, and parent outreach. Staff attended trainings both across and in intervention schools, giving them a chance to work together as a team and to share ideas with their counterparts in other intervention schools.

Nutrition Education. The goal was to provide 50 hours of food and nutrition education per student per school year, which was based on the National Center for Education Statistics guidelines.15 The educational component was designed to be integrative and interdisciplinary. Its purpose was to show how food choices and physical activity are tied to personal behavior, individual health, and the environment. Nutrition was integrated into various classroom subjects. For example, students used food labels to practice fractions and nutrition topics for writing assignments.

Nutrition Policy. In each of the intervention schools, all of the foods sold and served were changed to meet the following nutritional standards, which were based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and converted from the percentage of calories to grams per serving,16 which is in alignment with information shown on nutrition labels: all of the beverages were limited to 100% juice (recommended 6-oz serving size), water (no portion limits), and low-fat milk (recommended 8-oz serving size). Snack standards allowed 7 g of total fat, 2 g of saturated fat, 360 mg of sodium, and 15 g of sugar per serving. Before these changes, soda, chips, and other drinks and snacks had been sold in vending machines and a la carte in the cafeteria of schools with full-service kitchens. Schools without full-service kitchens did not sell a la carte food items or have vending machines. Schools were matched by type of food service to control for differences in the sales of vending and a la carte items.

Social Marketing. The SNPI used several social marketing techniques. To increase meal participation and consumption of healthy snack and beverage items, students who purchased healthy snacks and beverages or who brought in snack items that met the nutritional standards from home or local stores received raffle tickets. Raffle winners received prizes for healthy eating, such as bicycles, indoor basketball hoops, jump ropes, and calculators. The message "Want Strength?...Eat Healthy Foods," paired with an easily recognizable character, reinforced healthy messages through incentives and frequent exposure. Both the slogan and the character were developed through focus groups with students who were not in the study schools but were of similar age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Family Outreach. Nutrition educators reached family members through home and school association meetings, report card nights, parent education meetings, and weekly nutrition workshops. They encouraged parents and students, on the way to and from school, to purchase healthy snacks. Students participated in the 2-1-5 challenge to be less sedentary (2 hours per day of television and video games), to be more physically active (1 hour per day), and to eat more fruits and vegetables (5 per day). Intervention schools reduced the amount of unhealthy foods sold at parent fundraisers and discouraged parents from sending sweets to teachers at holiday time. One school chose to have a weekly breakfast club with female athletes from a local university."

via Foodlinks America newletter published by California Emergency Foodlink in Sacramento, CA. For archived issues of Foodlinks America, go to: To request a free subscription to the newsletter or to submit story ideas, contact Barbara Vauthier at:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Auburn School District Gardens In the News Again

Here's more about Auburn School District Nutrition Director Eric Boutin and his garden and orchard program. As far as we know, it's the first school district in the state to grow food to be served in cafeterias. The garden is also an educational tool--students plant and work in the garden.

Auburn High School Program hopes garden is step in healthier direction.

As for the oft-asked question, "Who will care for the garden in summer?"--it will be tended by students enrolled in summer programs at the school district and served in their summer food program.