Taking Aim at Childhood Obesity

BY BARRY WARNER

Sarah and Natalie are enjoying healthy snacks of cucumbers, carrots and juice drinks during a rest period at the YMCA After-School program at Bardonia Elementary School.

Initiatives that encourage kids to eat healthy in school, and exercise, are being implemented in Rockland County in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. The Healthy Hunger-Free kids Act of 2012 is an example. The program is aimed at improving child nutrition, including the National School Lunch program.

According to the New York State Department of Health, obesity rates among Rockland County children have tripled over the last three decades. “The dietary habits of children have shifted away from healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains to a much greater reliance on fast food, processed snack foods and sugary drinks,” said Michelle Kleinman of the Rockland County Department of Health.

This healthy 700 calorie 5 compartment lunch tray at Sloatsburg Elementary School contains corn chips (grains), 2 ounces of turkey meat (protein), refried beans (protein), salsa (vegetable), 1 % milk (protein), and an apple (fruit).

Under new USDA regulations, schools are required to combat these trends and offer fruits and vegetables at lunch every day. Schools also must increase the amount of whole-grain foods, reduce sodium and fats in foods, as well as serve fat-free or low fat milk. Additionally, menus must now pay attention to portion sizes in order to make sure that children receive calories appropriate to their age group.

“The complete lunch meal of 700 calories is made up of five components including meat or meat alternative, 2 ounces of whole grains, ¾ cup of vegetables, ½ cup of fruit and fat-free milk, said Jamie Szklany, cafeteria supervisor at Sloatsburg Elementary School. “We watch carefully at the register to make sure that all five items are on the plate. Also, there is a salad bar at the counter that contains apples, canned peaches, fresh broccoli and carrots.”

At Sloatsburg Elementary School, gym teacher Ken Wojehowski and his students are poised to get their physical activity by rolling the balls into hoops and scrambling during the ‘Artery Avenger’ game.

“Obesity of children has become an epidemic,” said Ken Wojehowski, a gym teacher at Sloatsburg Elementary School. “In the gym, when children are exercising, there is that opportunity for the ‘teaching moment. With the ‘Artery Avenger’ activity, students learn that with movement, fat cells don’t have a chance to build up in the arteries and cause heart problems.”