Chera Sevcik, MS
When we think of back to school, we think of backpacks filled with new school supplies, new teachers and new homework. Often, we forget about school nutrition and what we, as parents, educators and school staff can do to improve the healthiness of foods our children (and ourselves) can consume to maintain healthy lifestyles, high energy and brain power!
This year, Faribault, Martin & Watonwan Counties SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) is excited to partner with three school districts (Martin County West, Blue Earth Area Schools and United South Central School) to take a holistic look at the types of foods and nutrition available at school. Not only is the project looking making healthy changes to meals, but is also looking at foods and beverages available in school vending machines, in the concession stands, in a la carte, foods provided at snack time, foods used for fundraising and foods available for school and classroom celebrations. Evidenced-based programs such as Farm to School, breakfast promotion and school gardens will also be considered.
To help us with this project, we have contracted with Leslie Lytle, PhD, RD, a professor who works with the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Division of Public Health and Epidemiology. Dr. Lytle has worked with hundreds of school districts, including Albert Lea School during the Blue Zones Vitality Project. Dr. Lytle will be working with each participating school district to assess and implement changes within the school food environment. Dr. Lytle and her team will be looking at foods available within each school and will also be asking teachers, parents, principals, food service staff and other school stakeholders to participate in a survey to better understand the school's food environment. This assessment will provide each school with a baseline and allow school stakeholders to identify priority areas to begin making changes. Not only will this work aim to improve the school nutrition environment, but a number of policy changes will be made to ensure sustainability of school nutrition changes.
Dr. Lytle was in the area and presented information about childhood obesity and the urgency to improve all avenues of childhood nutrition to teachers, staff and other stakeholders during school staff workshops in early September. The assessment process was also described for school staff and surveys for teachers, parents and principals were distributed.
Once the assessment process has been completed, likely later this fall, Dr. Lytle will host a forum in each school district to share results with school and community stakeholders. At that time, an action plan will be developed for each participating school.