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Statewide wellness policy to bring changes to schools

When elementary and middle school children go back to school in August, a few new rules will be in place.

A new wellness policy will put limitations on foods that may be purchased at school, said Carolyn Perry-Burst, Knox County Health Department Nutrition Services program manager. The policy also will promote nutrition education and physical activity.

Students may notice a change when they go through the cafeteria line, as well as when they use a school vending machine, Perry-Burst said.

If a food is too high in sugar or fat, it won’t be approved, she said. In addition, the portion size will be much smaller than the students are used to.

Federal legislation was enacted in 2004, Perry-Burst said, requiring schools that participate in the USDA program (school lunch and breakfast program) meet federal requirements, including having a school wellness policy in place by July 1, 2006.

“The legislation that was passed at the state level also applies to a la carte items in the cafeteria,” Perry-Burst said.

Hamburgers and fries aren’t going to disappear, however.

“They’re already approved items for the school program,” she said. The change may be in whether French fries can always be purchased as a separate item.

The total meal is looked at, and if French fries are part of the approved meal for that day, they may be purchased as an a la carte item.

“I would think that one of the things that would not make it would be cakes. Those probably are not going to make the a la carte list,” Perry-Burst said.

When students line up for drinks from the vending machine, they may be surprised to see smaller versions of juice.

“Basically, it’s going to be milk, juice or water,” she said, and the milk and juice will be limited to eight ounces.

“The juice has to be eight ounces or less and one hundred percent juice,” Perry-Burst said, “not sugared water with a little bit of juice.”

The physical activity component of the wellness policy will include each school forming a committee to evaluate the three sections — nutrition standards, nutrition education and physcial activity — within each building and establishing goals for improvements in these areas, said Laura Boring, supervisor of physical education and health K-8 for Knox County Schools.

“The goal of the wellness policy is to increase the focus on physical activity and raise awareness of the impact of physical activity on childhood obesity,” Boring said. We are above the national average for childhood obesity in Knox County, she said.

The state no longer has any requirements for physical activity at school, she said, adding that how much time students spend on the playground is up to the individual school.

“Schools desperately search for additional instruction time because of the accountability of test scores,” Boring said, adding that makes increasing play time difficult.

“When kids get home, we need to work together to provide additional physical activity,” she said.


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