New guidelines aim to improve school nutrition and reduce childhood obesity

New guidelines aim to improve school nutrition and reduce childhood obesity

Public invited to comment on proposal to make healthier foods available to students

A statewide health organization is asking for public input on newly revised guidelines to help schools provide healthier foods to students in Missouri. The goal of the guidelines is to improve student health and prevent childhood obesity.

The Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines are voluntary nutrition guidelines for all food available on school campuses for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The guidelines were developed by the Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition (MoCAN), a group that includes the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the University of Missouri Extension and other organizations involved in health-related issues.

“The food students eat at school has a big impact on their overall health,” said Barbara Keen, MoCAN member and registered dietitian at the state health department. “By helping schools improve nutrition, we can help prevent children from becoming overweight. Children who are overweight have a greater risk of developing health problems now and later in life.”

The public can review the revised guidelines at: www.dhss.mo.gov/Obesity/MOEatSmartGuidelines2ndEd.pdf. Comments can be submitted by clicking on the specified link in the document. Public comment will be accepted from July 7 through August 8.

MoCAN’s first set of school nutrition guidelines, published in 2005, outlined three levels of nutrition standards for schools: minimum, intermediate and advanced. The revised guidelines add a fourth category, the exemplary level, as a higher standard for school nutrition.

The minimum level complies with the minimum requirements set for federal child nutrition programs as well as state policy. The standards for each subsequent level call for healthier foods. For example, the intermediate level requires fresh, canned, dried or frozen fruits and vegetables to be served at least three days a week, while the exemplary level requires fresh fruits and vegetables to be served daily.

Each nutrition level recognizes that differences exist in the resources available to school districts for their nutrition programs and offers recommendations for steps schools can take to continue progress in improving school nutrition.

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“When the first set of guidelines were published, a number of schools in Missouri were interested in more advanced and challenging guidelines,” Keen said. “By including a higher level in the revised guidelines, we are setting a standard for schools that want to further improve the nutrition of the food they offer their students.”

Nutrition guidelines are part of a school’s local wellness policy. Federal law requires school districts to establish wellness committees to address nutrition guidelines, physical activity, nutrition education and other school-based activities that contribute to the health of students. MoCAN offers its nutrition guidelines to public and non-public schools as a service to help schools implement their local wellness policies.

MoCAN will review the public comments on the revised nutrition guidelines in August and plans to release final recommendations in September.

The school local wellness policy is part of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, Section 204. The act required schools to have wellness programs in place by July 2006.

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