Georgia is one of 19 states that have seen significant declines in childhood obesity, according to a recent study conducted by the CDC.
Schools in Georgia are playing a part in the effort to keep kids healthy through better nutrition and physical fitness. Liberty County Schools have implemented menus that follow USDA guidelines for healthier meals. And LCSS follows the state’s annual fitness assessment program using FitnessGram, which electronically tracks a student’s fitness level.
“We serve 51 percent whole grain bread products,” Chris Reddick, school nutrition director, said. “We’ve got the requirement of the dark green vegetables, a red/orange vegetable and we have to serve beans at least once a week. Our milk is skim or one percent, not 2 percent or whole, and we serve fresh fruits and vegetables daily. And if we use canned fruit, it has to be in light juice or water.”
Reddick added the district’s school cafeterias limit sodium and serve trans-fat free foods.
The new menu grew out of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity, school nutrition coordinator Jessica O’Leary said. Children are encouraged to try foods they might not have tasted before, like bok choy, a dark green vegetable.
O’Leary said next school year main meal offerings will all be “home cooked,” she said. Instead of pre-made meat crumble, lean ground beef will be used, O’Leary said.
The school nutrition coordinator said students can still get classics like hamburgers, pizza and spaghetti, but added these items are being prepared in healthier ways.
“Every Thursday is unofficially chicken Thursday,” she said. “But we don’t just serve chicken strips. We try to introduce other types (of chicken dishes), like chicken fajitas or chicken pot pie.”
Middle and high school students also get the choice of a side salad for lunch, O’Leary said, and elementary school students may choose a pre-plated salad, like chicken or tuna.
Students get healthier meal choices at breakfast too, according to O’Leary. The Liberty County Pre-K Center’s breakfast menu for September includes such offerings as a warm blueberry muffin with yogurt, an egg and cheese bagel, and a choice of cereal with graham crackers.
Susan Avant, a LCSS curriculum specialist, said the district’s physical fitness program and health education classes encourage students to develop a positive attitude about fitness and health.
FitnessGram follows students from first through 12th grade, Avant said. First- through third-graders practice the program’s physical activities, but don’t have their fitness scores counted, she said. Students in fourth through 12th grade are assessed and their scores entered, Avant said. FitnessGram reports are sent home to parents, she said.
To assess aerobic capacity, students might engage in a progressive aerobic cardiovascular endurance run or one-mile run, Avant said.
In a PACER, students run in a cadence back and forth across a gym, and the run is timed, she explained. The PACER score indicates how efficiently the body uses oxygen, according to the Georgia Department of Education website.
Students are also required to do curl-ups to increase abdominal strength, push-ups for upper body strength, and sit-and-reach exercises for flexibility, according to gadoe.org.
Students also have their height and weight measured each year for FitnessGram, Avant said.
“Students can also do individual goal setting,” Avant said.
The curriculum specialist said the system is also a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a program that helps schools create healthier environments for students and faculty.
“We just signed up this week to be part of the Power Up for 30 program,” she said. This program helps students incorporate 30 minutes of activity into the school day without altering the academic schedule, Avant said.
“When kids are more active in school they’re more alert and ready to learn,” she said.
Individual LCSS schools also sponsor walks, form running clubs to train for 5K runs or offer activities during family nights, according to Avant.
She said teachers are also replacing traditional unhealthy rewards — like sugary cupcakes — with healthier alternatives, like allowing students to play an activity-based Wii game.
“It’s absolutely making a difference,” Avant said.