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The next step on healthy schools

Students eat lunch at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Sacramento in September 2015. A new wellness policy on school food is going before the district school board.
Students eat lunch at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Sacramento in September 2015. A new wellness policy on school food is going before the district school board. Sacramento Bee file

Schools aim to protect students by fingerprinting adults and holding fire drills. So it makes sense that schools now are required by federal law to teach students about wellness.

These policies need full engagement from school boards, administrators, teachers and parents to model the healthy behaviors we’re asking kids to follow.

Every school that takes part in federal school nutrition programs is required to update their wellness policy this year with comprehensive goals, including eliminating junk food from the school day. Today, 40 percent of Sacramento-area children suffer from childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes, asthma and hypertension also are increasing. A healthy diet and exercise could prevent these diseases.

Zoey Goore, a pediatrician and president of Northern California American Academy of Pediatrics, saw her first patient die because of obesity this spring. She has provided input for the Sacramento City Unified School District’s policy, which is being overseen by Valley Vision, along with parents, teachers, the Health Education Council and Food Literacy Center. It aims to establish a school culture that eliminates junk food options and educates students about exercise and eating vegetables.

The proposed wellness policy goes before the district board on Thursday and is expected to be approved Aug. 17 – and that’s when the real work begins. The policy will require a renewed commitment from district leaders and community stakeholders to ensure the changes take root. That means teachers rewarding students with stickers instead of candy, parents helping kids raise money for prom by selling fruit instead of cookies, and administrators paying for nutrition and wellness programs.

The health of 45,000 students depends on this.

Amber K. Stott is founder of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center and can be contacted at amber@foodliteracycenter.org. Debra Oto-Kent is executive director of the Health Education Council and can be contacted at admin@healthedcouncil.org.

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