Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Some success on healthy school lunches

After putting about six months of service into my town's School Wellness Committee (see earlier post), I was quite pleased with the outcome. The local chapter of the children's advocacy group Stand for Children offered the headline: "Nutrition and Wellness SUCCESS!".

The hardest part of this work came after the wellness committee completed its draft, calling for a number of important improvements to the nutrition environment, when it became clear we hadn't done enough outreach to principals. What a disappointment! We had made such a disciplined effort to solicit community input and had made tentative efforts to reach principals, and hadn't expected strong opposition from that quarter.

The best zinger in opposition to our proposal, really at my expense, came from my son's much respected no-nonsense principal at Thompson Elementary, who feared additional bureaucratic burdens: "The best wellness policy is a good education."

Yet, with a good deal more work, we all pulled together and reached a final document (see link here) that required compromises on all sides and yet earned every faction's support. Some of the most important planks give the principals more discretion than the first draft did, which means their commitment to the spirit of this effort will be a critical factor going forward.

For me, this experience provided a great education in local politics and was also a rewarding effort, because of the benefit for my children and all the children in the community. You can imagine, in my U.S. Food Policy class this fall, that the lecture and discussion on the "advocacy coalition framework" and other political science theories will be a little less dry.

On the national scene, Jack from Fork & Bottle points out this NYT article on nutrition in school lunch programs, summarizing the bad news and the good news:
By any health measure, today's children are in crisis. Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, and increasing numbers of children are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which, until a few years ago, was a condition seen almost only in adults. The obesity rate of adolescents has tripled since 1980 and shows no sign of slowing down. Today's children have the dubious honor of belonging to the first cohort in history that may have a lower life expectancy than their parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that 30 to 40 percent of today's children will have diabetes in their lifetimes if current trends continue.

The only good news is that as these stark statistics have piled up, so have the resources being spent to improve school food. Throw a dart at a map and you will find a school district scrambling to fill its students with things that are low fat and high fiber.


Anonymous said...

How did jargon like "cohort" slip past the New York Times copyediting desk?! Last week a Wall Street Journal article on obesity also used it.

WSJ is pretty sloppy in editing out stuff like this, but the NYT usually tends to be on the ball in making their articles comprehensible to the average person.

Anonymous said...

The word cohort is not jargon. Rather, it is a very important concept in epidemiology and medicine. A cohort study is a specific type of prospectice observational study epidemiologists use to evaluate risk factors in such circumstances. Putting "cohort" into the National Library of Medicine's PubMed literature database yields 117,000 hits. Definitely not jargon.

usfoodpolicy said...

Mark and anonymous each make good points.

If it helps, Merriam-Webster has this definition: "a group of individuals having a statistical factor (as age or class membership) in common in a demographic study."

Anonymous said...

An article in the current New Yorker profiles Ann Cooper’s bid to improve school food in Berkeley. Highly recommended; no link available.

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