Fighting empty calories through proactive academic nutrition
Something is missing on Natomas Unified School District’s campuses that makes it harder to satisfy a sweet tooth: soda and candy vending machines.
A 2005 California Health Interview Survey showed that 62 percent of teens consume 39 pounds of sugar each year from soft drinks alone. The research showed that counties with the highest obesity rates had the highest rates of soda consumption.
One Natomas Unified School District parent, Heather Reed, said she “agrees 100% with the district’s ban on soda machines” and believes there is a link between adolescent obesity and soda consumption.
Reed is in a unique position; not only is her daughter an eighth grader at Leroy Greene Middle School, but Reed works as an Education Nutrition Consultant for the California Department of Education and also serves on the district‘s Health and Wellness Committee.
“I think sodas are like comic books,” Reed said. “They’re not going to nourish you.”
In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law banning the sale of soda on public high school campuses. Resulting in lost income for school districts, the law didn’t fully take affect until earlier this year. NUSD has no candy vending machines, but currently there is no law against them.
Last month, the Wellness Committee unveiled its “Wellness Policy on Physical Activity and Nutrition,” an outline of nourishment goals, daily physical education plans, rules about meal times and special instructions for foodservice at classroom parties.
Limiting foods with minimal nutritional value, restricting fat and sugar, and increasing whole grain, fruit and vegetable offerings are all goals of the “Wellness Policy.”
The policy states that brand names or logos on school books and scoreboards can only represent foods approved by the Wellness Committee. While Reed said she doesn’t think advertising of any kind belongs on school campuses, the potential for profit is appealing.
Reed said school fundraising through selling candy is another area that the Wellness Committee has started to regulate. Students are discouraged from selling candy to raise money and candy is not supposed to be given as a reward for good behavior.
“Personally, I don’t think candy is an evil thing.” Reed said, “I think selling it for fundraising is a bad thing.”
With budget cuts of more than $13 million forcing the district to re-evaluate its spending, one area that will see a dramatic change is foodservice. According to NUSD Public Information Officer Heidi Van Zant, the district started using Chartwells, a foodservice management company, on June 1 in order to carve money out of the budget. Students now pay $3 for lunch entrées, last year they paid $2.50.
Van Zant describes a high school cafeteria under Chartwells as “a whole new world.”
The new options for high school students are almost overwhelming; in one cafeteria, seven entrée areas each serve a different style of food daily. Students also get fresh fruit and a choice between fat free milk and 100% juice. Every week, students are given 35 different entree choices including crunchy tacos, vegetarian or Hawaiian pizzas, teriyaki beef or orange chicken plates, eggplant deli sandwiches and spinach or chef salads.
Inderkum High senior Mariana Diaz said she doesn’t usually eat school lunch entrées, but she does eat a la carte and snack items. Diaz, who drinks mostly water, said she stopped drinking soda four years ago, so the absence of soda vending machines on campus has never affected her diet.
“My mom stopped drinking soda so I just decided not to because I know it’s unhealthy,” Diaz said.
Diaz said she mostly brings food from home instead of buying any $3 school lunches, but she occasionally buys $2 burritos that haven’t changed in quality or price since last year. She said more students, like herself, would buy school entrées more often if the prices were lower, the portions were bigger and students could get through the service lines faster.
Diaz added that although Inderkum sells breakfast, like cereal and muffins, she has never eaten any breakfast items at school.
“I guess I just come to school too late to get breakfast,” Diaz said, “but I probably wouldn’t spend my money on it anyway.”
Reed said the Wellness Committee is planning a two-week “walk-to-school free breakfast pilot program” aimed at promoting breakfast to high school students. Breakfast is extremely important, Reed said, and even though 75 percent of Natomas High School students qualify for reduced price meals, a lot of them don’t take advantage of it.
“Some schools are doing amazing things with food like creating gardens, farms, and increasing fresh fruit and veggie options,” Reed said. “The goal is to try to make foods not only more healthful but connect it to the rest of the school.”
The Wellness Committee meets on the second Thursday of each month at 3:30 p.m. The Board will hold a Student Health and Wellness Workshop on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. in the district’s Education Center at 1901 Arena Blvd.