Schools join fight against obesity

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi has a major obesity epidemic and the state is fighting back — starting with children.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports that educators hope improved child nutrition programs will lead to continued health gains.

Schools are now required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to serve at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables on every plate served to children.

Julie Hamilton works in Child Nutrition with Lamar County Schools, and she doesn’t see it as a hard sell to the students.

“It’s not a punishment. It’s, ‘Darling, just pick one of the four that we have, and try it.’ It does encourage them to learn the different fruits and vegetables that are available.”

Many school districts have already adopted a similar policy.

Scott Clements, director of child nutrition for the Mississippi Department of Education, said healthier meals at school are partially responsible for some of the positive health outcomes recently reported among Mississippi’s children.

“We feel like there has to be a connection between the healthier meals you’re seeing in the schools, and then the habits that the children pick up in the schools, bring home with them, and when they’re asking mom, ‘Can I have a kiwi?’ Instead of a candy bar that’s a fantastic thing, and it really helps all of our children,” Clements said.

Schools have already been removing fryers from cafeterias and serving more whole grains and vegetables.

That’s why, Armer Moore, president of the Mississippi School Nutrition Association thinks the state is ready to comply with the new federal standards.

“We were waiting on the new standards to come down the pipe, and in doing so, I can say Mississippi is ahead of the game and we didn’t wait to the last moment to get ready for this mandate. I think we are prepared, and we’re going to get it done,” Moore said.

The state’s childhood obesity rate dropped 13 percent from 2005 to 2011 among elementary school students, according to the Mississippi Center for Health Policy.