School Nutrition, Part 1: Parents petition for school nutrition
According to Harvard's School of Public Health, childhood obesity has been called “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”
The report also states obesity can harm nearly every system in a child’s body – heart and lungs, muscles and bones, kidneys and digestive tract, as well as the hormones that control blood sugar and puberty – and can also take a heavy social and emotional toll.
In 2010, an estimated 43 million preschool children globally (under age 5) were overweight or obese in 2010, a 60 percent increase since 1990.
Despite the drastic increases in childhood obesity, the National School Lunch Program has no guidelines or recommendations about eliminating harmful artificial ingredients like sweeteners and preservatives.
Jennifer Hein, a mother of three – two of which are in Loudoun County Public Schools – has stepped to the front of the line in combating childhood obesity after reading a Washington Post article about JoAnne Hammermaster, the president of Real Food for Kids in Fairfax County.
In Loudoun County, Jennifer Hein has formed her own Real Food for Kids in Loudoun County.
Hein was able to learn how Hammermaster got the organization off the ground. Since its inception three years ago, 91 percent of harmful ingredients from Fairfax County Public Schools lunch rooms have been removed.
Hein presented a petition of more than 1,000 signatures to the Loudoun County School Board's Health, Safety, Wellness and Transportation Committee Oct. 7.
The petition states that parents wish the Loudoun County Public Schools to work with food manufacturers to provide food free of artificial dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and other harmful chemicals.
Another concerned mother, Cynthia Thurlow outlined some of the many concerns the group has regarding food being served at school.
Thurlow is a certified nurse practitioner in cardiology with two children in the school system.
“I have worked solely in cardiology for the last 13 years, so I have seen the long-term effects of the utilization of these preservatives and chemicals in the mainstream diet of most Americans,” Thurlow said. “Sadly, the rates of obesity in this country have doubled in children over the last 20 years. One in seven young people are considered to be obese and three are overweight.”
Following their meeting, Hein – who is a health coach – fully understands the difficulty the county food services department is facing.
“During the meeting we realized how hard of a job they have, when you think about the changes they have tried to make already and the children don't even like to try them,” Hein said. “Out of that meeting, I think we feel we need to turn our attention to education of children and families about healthy eating habits. We need to reach out to the little ones and instill those habits while we still can before they get to high school and have already formed their eating habits.”