Occidental College Institute Calls for Healthier Food Options in Los Angeles Schools
Having banned all soft drink sales on its campuses, the Los Angeles Unified School District needs to take further steps to effectively combat rising rates of overweight among the hundreds of thousands of students it feeds daily, according to a new report from the Occidental College Urban and Environmental Policy Institute.
The crucial issue framing current efforts and debates about nutrition education and food choice is the alarming increase in the prevalence of overweight among American children,” said report co-author Robert Gottlieb, Occidental professor of urban and environmental policy and director of the UEPI. “The number of overweight school-age children tripled from 5 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2000 and continues to increase.”
Some of the causes include changes in home eating habits (while meals prepared at home accounted for slightly less than 20 hours a week in the 1950s, that number decreased to less than 10 hours a week in 1998-99, according to the Annual Review of Public Health) and school food programs that mimic or work in conjunction with fast food and beverage providers. Research also ties family income status to overweight. Almost 62 percent of school children in Los Angeles County are eligible for free and reduced-price meals as determined by federal poverty guidelines.
The 26-page report was funded by the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation. Titled “Fast Food And Healthy Food: Evaluating Programs and Policies For Healthy Food Alternatives in Southern California Schools,” the report concludes that more needs to be done to encourage access to healthy foods on school campuses. Among its key recommendations:
· LAUSD should appoint a liaison to facilitate community participation in the district’s decision-making process, to increase buy-in and likelihood of success of implementing healthy school food policies.
· School sponsored taste tests of healthier food - such as those that occurred at Venice High School and Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley - should be conducted for students at all LAUSD schools.
· The LAUSD Child Nutrition Advisory Committee should be re-established to monitor and evaluate obesity prevention and soda ban motions adopted by the school board. The committee was formed in 2001, but is no longer functioning.
· Student nutrition advisory councils should be developed at each high school to help implement healthy school food approaches, including issues involved with vending machines and student stores. The handful of councils that now exist at LAUSD high schools are important advocates for healthy approaches, said report co-author Margaret Haase, who is the director of the Center for Food and Justice, a division of UEPI.
Further, the report calls on the district to build on its salad bar program, including a “farm-to-school” approach in which local growers provide fresh fruit and vegetables to area schools. UEPI successfully facilitated the development of the farm-to-school approach, in which farmers supply fresh produce for school lunch salad bars, to all 14 campuses in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and to several elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District. In addition, the project encourages schools to plant their own gardens as an integrated educational component.
Gottlieb noted that LAUSD and other Southern California school districts have already taken some of these steps in the past two years, but “it is imperative from both a health and learning perspective that the report’s recommendations be effectively implemented, extended and sustained.”
“Schools can play an important role in preventing childhood overweight by providing ready access to healthy meals with appropriate calories and nutrients, providing nutrition education that encourages healthful food selections, offering opportunities for physical activity and creating school environments that model health-promoting behaviors and choices,” Haase added.
To view the complete report, visit www.uepi.oxy.edu.