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November 27, 2012

My View: Healthier school nutrition standards

With the recent celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday — and at the risk of being a humbug — it is, perhaps, a good time to talk about good nutrition, and the new state and federal standards for school lunches.

Many of us are aware that, nationally, one in three American youths are overweight or obese. This is a serious problem that puts our children at risk of health complications like diabetes and heart disease, elevated blood pressure, and even some kinds of cancers.

In response to this concern, both the federal government and the Massachusetts Legislature have responded with requirements that are based on scientific and expert recommendations from sources such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report (of the National Academies) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture.

At the federal level, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the Department of Agriculture to update standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In Massachusetts, the “Act Relative to School Nutrition,” signed into law on July 30, 2010, requires the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to establish standards for foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools during the school day.

School districts including, of course, the Gloucester Public School District must comply with the nutrition standards beginning Aug. 1, 2012.

Here in Gloucester, in a summary of major health initiatives and services dated August 2012 and provided by the director of nurses, the following data was provided for 896 students in Grades 1, 4, 7, and 10:

2.1 percent of students are under the 5th percentile (underweight).

61.27 percent students are between the 5th and 84th percentile (normal weight).

17.96 percent are between the 85th and 95th percentile (at-risk of being overweight).

18.75 percent are over the 95th percentile (overweight).

This data indicates that 37 percent of the sample population tested is at-risk for being overweight or overweight. This is a 2 percent increase from the previous year and consistent with national trends.

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