Schools guiding kids toward better diets

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. — With the new school year kicking off today for most local students, it’s worth pointing out that several school systems are using new methods to battle child obesity.

West Virginia now has the highest adult obesity rate in the nation, studies say.

West Virginia’s adult obesity rate is 35.1 percent, up from 27.6 percent in 2004 and from 13.7 percent in 1990.

In 1980, no state was above 15 percent; in 1991, no state was above 20 percent; in 2000, no state was above 25 percent; and, in 2007, only Mississippi was above 30 percent.

With child obesity rates also on the rise, some local educators are looking to get kids “hooked” on eating fresh, healthy food.

Barbour County Schools started the new school year off by buying local produce.

A total of 45 pounds of sliced tomatoes and 5 gallons of cherry tomatoes, grown locally within the county, were delivered to the schools on Tuesday. Working with Heart and Hand Inc., a non-profit mission project affiliated with the United Methodist Church based in Barbour County, the school purchased high quality, locally grown tomatoes to provide to their students.

“This week’s tomato delivery is a great start for the schools with using produce grown right here in Barbour County. We look forward to the upcoming school year and the opportunity to provide students with some fresh, high quality food,” stated Kim Nestor, an aggregator for Heart and Hand, Inc.

The tomatoes delivered to Barbour County Schools were grown by the Sickler Farm.

One local school even provides students the opportunity to grow their own fresh vegetables.

Thanks to community support and some state funding, children at Beverly Elementary School have planted and grown a garden the past two fall semesters.

Beverly Elementary Principal Paul Zickefoose said students plant, raise, harvest and cultivate their own crop.

“That produce, when it’s harvested, is put on our garden bar so they get a chance to eat what they have raised,” he said.

This past year, students grew radishes, spinach, Russian kale and broccoli rabe – all hearty late-season vegetables. They were able to grow and harvest enough to supply produce for one week in October to Midland, George Ward and Homestead elementary schools.

Later in the year, Beverly Elementary students planted a small crop of lettuce in a garden plot behind their school. When the plants matured, the group gathered the lettuce and headed to Davis Medical Center for a tour of the Nutrition Services Department. While at DMC, the group toured the facility’s large kitchen, where DMC staff helped wash and prepare the lettuce. Students then created their own salad lunch using their lettuce and other fresh items from the salad bar.

“Learning how to grow things is very nurturing, particularly for young children,” said Jim Severino, DMC’s dietitian and director of nutrition services. “We were able to show them how simple it is to grow and prepare fresh vegetables for a nutritious meal.”

Severino, who has provided nutrition education at the school before, said, “We’re teaching kids about health and wellness and nutrition and making the connection between growing food and eating food.”

We applaud these outstanding efforts. It seems likely that students who try and enjoy new fresh fruits – and who learn to garden and harvest fresh vegetables – will continue those healthy eating habits into adulthood.

So have a great first day of school, kids! And at lunchtime enjoy that salad bar, because learning those healthy habits can stay with you for a lifetime.

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