Op-Ed

Anita Courtney: Stand together for healthy kids, healthy schools

Anita Courtney of Lexington is director of Tweens Nutrition and Fitness 
Coalition.
Anita Courtney of Lexington is director of Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.

Receiving candy for finishing a worksheet. Attending school events brimming with junk food. Missing recess as punishment for remedial work or when the temperature is under 40 degrees.

These old school practices not only teach children that poor nutrition and sedentary behavior are a way of life, they negatively impact student behavior and academic performance.

Extensive research shows that nutrition and exercise practices have significant impact on students' ability to behave well, focus in school, and learn. Adults know this to be true. Try eating a bunch of candy and sitting in a meeting all day and then see how ready you are to learn and be productive.

But it's not just academic. These practices also have implications for the quality and length of our children's lives.

One in three Kentucky children is overweight or obese and we rank number one for overweight and obese high school students. This puts them at high risk for chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Our schools should be helping turn the tide of this epidemic, not contributing to it.

The Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition has organized a School Wellness Action Plan (SWAP) team made up of teachers, principals, administrators, parents and health advocates.

The SWAP team proposes that Fayette County Public Schools adopt three district-wide policies: (1) end the use of food as reward, (2) ensure that all elementary school students get at least 20 minutes of recess every day, and (3) include at least 50 percent healthy food in school celebrations.

These policy recommendations were not arrived at lightly. The SWAP team did extensive research to select changes that would be impactful but not too challenging for the district to implement.

In a meeting with Superintendent Tom Shelton, he called them "reasonable and commonsense recommendations."

Though individual schools are already required to have wellness policies, some schools have adopted strong policies, while others have not. Adopting district-wide policies would help create healthy school environments for all children and eliminate existing disparities.

The Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition is ready to support schools in implementing these changes. We provide tool kits and training on active indoor recess, affordable snacks for school events and alternatives to rewarding students with food and taking away recess as punishment.

See www.tweenslex.org/school-wellness/ for more information. We'll also have a SWAP YouTube channel up soon.

Do school wellness polices make a difference?

A study cited in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine showed that schools with stricter school wellness policies have more students who are at a healthy weight. The Chula Vista, Calif. school district strengthened its wellness policy, and three years later 3.2 percent, or 800, fewer students were overweight or obese.

Our coalition has been working for years to improve nutrition and fitness for Lexington youth. Now, we need your help. On Monday, Nov. 10, the Fayette County Board of Education will be considering these issues.

If you agree that healthy school environments are important, call or write your school board member and ask him or her to support the SWAP policies: www.fcps.net/administration/board-of-education/members. The message doesn't have to be long. In fact, board members appreciate concise communication.

There are also two Board of Education meetings you can attend to show support. The first is Monday at 5:30 p.m. at district headquarters at 701 East Main Street, where the policies will be presented to the board for consideration.

The second meeting is Nov. 24 at 6 p.m., also at 701 East Main Street. It will allow time for community members to speak about school wellness.

There's power in numbers. Let's stand together for Lexington children.

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