Fewer Kentucky public schools sold sugary, high fat snacks to students in 2016 than in 2014, according to data from School Health Profiles surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The surveys showed there are fewer Kentucky public schools in which students can purchase snack foods and beverages outside the school lunch program that are not nutritious, state education officials said in a news release.
The data, in part, centered on the percentage of Kentucky schools in which students could purchase snack foods or beverages from one or more vending machines at the school or at a school store, canteen or snack bar, Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said.
Among the examples:
▪ Chocolate candy — 7.8 percent of Kentucky schools made chocolate candy available for purchase in 2016, down from 22.6 percent in 2014.
▪ Salty snacks that are not low in fat — 13.7 percent in 2016, down from 26.1 percent in 2014.
▪ Cookies, crackers or other baked goods that are not low in fat — 12.0 percent in 2016, down from 24.1 percent in 2014.
▪ Soda or fruit drinks that are not 100 percent juice — 15.7 percent in 2016, down from 33.1 percent in 2014.
In addition, more than one-third of schools prohibited less nutritious foods and beverages from being sold for fundraisers in 2016 — 36.1 percent, up from 23.1 percent in 2014, officials said.
The School Health Profiles assess school health policies and practices in states, large urban districts and territories. Profiles surveys are conducted biennially by education and health agencies among middle and high school principals and lead health education teachers. The most recent data was collected in spring 2016.
Zachariah “Zach” Sippy, the student representative on the decision-making council at Lexington’s Henry Clay High School, said that his school offers healthier vending machine snacks that meet higher standards. But Zach said he thinks schools in general still use chocolates and other sweets to raise funds.
Zach said the surveys show that there has been “great improvement and there is room for a lot more.”
The surveys also show, state education officials said, that nearly three-fourths of Kentucky public schools have one or more groups such as a school health council, committee or team that offers guidance on the development of policies or coordinates activities on health topics. There were such groups in 74.7 percent of schools in 2016, up from 63.8 percent in 2014.
There is growth in the percentage of schools offering opportunities for students to participate in physical activity before the school day through organized physical activities or access to facilities or equipment for physical activity — 29.4 percent in 2016, up from 19.3 percent in 2014.
Changes to federal guidelines through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School regulation, along with a program review by the Kentucky Department of Education, have contributed to schools offering better nutrition and physical activity opportunities for students, state education officials said.
Marty Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, told the Herald-Leader that the federal guideline changes have had a positive impact on what students consume. Her group’s members include school nutrition administrators, cafeteria managers, cafeteria staff and support staff.
“Embracing these guidelines reinforces the healthy food choices given to students every day in school meal programs and provides a consistent message to students on the importance of good nutrition,” Flynn said.
Janet Mullins, a University of Kentucky professor and extension specialist in food and nutrition, said that healthier foods in schools — and at home — are important because they can help Kentucky students reduce their risk of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases.
“These changes in the school food environment are a positive way to help students choose more nutritious foods. Everyone benefits from an environment where healthy foods are readily available, and the changes could also benefit school staff and guests,” Mullins said.