Friday, August 31, 2012

School Meals Just Got Healthier Says Extension Specialist

Missouri obesity rates are higher than the national average, and childhood obesity rates are on the rise according to current CDC statistics.

According to Dr. Lydia Kaume, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, there is evidence that dietary and exercise patterns that lead to obesity are established during childhood.

“There is evidence that 50 percent of currently obese adults were obese as children, and 25 percent of obese adults were overweight as children. In fact, national data shows that one in three children are obese,” said Dr. Kaume.

Numerous studies show that well-nourished kids learn better. Nutritious meals and snacks will help kids stay healthy and reduce their risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious chronic diseases.

“Since our children consume half of their meals in schools, transforming school meals goes a long way in promoting better nutrition and reducing obesity,” said Dr. Kaume.

Improvements to the meals in American schools are as result of the Healthy, Hunger Free kids (HHFK) Act of 2010 School Meals. This law has several components that enable improving school meals and aligning them with the latest nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The following changes made to school meals this year were built on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.

• Students will be offered and required to have one-half cup of fruits or vegetables on their tray every day of the week.

• There will be increased offerings of whole grain-rich foods.

• Milk offered will be only fat-free or low-fat milk.

• Calories will be limited based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size.

• There will be increased focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Dr. Kaume says it is also a good idea to take an active role in school meals and to encourage your children to eat healthy foods. Here are a few ways that can be done:

• Plan to join your child(ren) for lunch in the school cafeteria.

• Ask “what did you have for lunch? They will know you care about healthy meals.

• Plan and prepare healthy meals at home and empower your child with skills, knowledge, and confidence to prepare healthy meals as adults.

• Let your child(ren) see you enjoying healthy meals and snacks at home or when eating out.

• Use grocery shopping to teach children how to make healthy choices.

• Shop and try new foods at home, include some that are offered in the school cafeteria.

“These changes may be a little intimidating to our kids at the beginning, but parents and guardians have the power to not only encourage children to build a healthy plate at school, but should also to strive at providing an equally healthy plate at home,” said Dr. Kaume.

For more information on nutrition issues, go online to or contact one of the nutrition and health education specialists working in the Ozarks: Christeena Haynes, in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; or Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Springfield, (417) 886-2059.


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