Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Want to improve school nutrition? Put the kids in charge!

While I am always an advocate of strong wellness policies, health advisory councils, and standards for nutrient-rich foods, too many supporters of school nutrition improvements have neglected the potential of the most powerful change agents on campus - STUDENTS. Check out what the Fuel Up To Play 60 (FUTP60) team at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, were able to do:
  • More than double breakfast participation in just 5 months (average jumped from around 330 to 680+ in a school with 1,000 students)
  • Make a noticeable decrease in the number of students bringing chips and soft drinks from the corner store to school
  • Begin popular Tae Bo and "Girls Club" before/after-school classes for kids who were not into traditional athletics
And, this all happened in a very diverse, low-income school where 93.5% of students qualify for free/reduce meals!!

A dedicated group of 12 students (with strong support, good advisors, and excellent listeners among the adult staff) used the FUTP60 program to get their peers involved in eating smarter and moving more. They got them to sign pledges, to grab a breakfast, and to join before/after-school fitness activities.

Why? Kids know what matters to kids. Students said that the Grab-and-Go breakfast would be more popular in clear bags (rather than brown paper), so that kids could see what they were getting. Since over 2/3 of Arlington students now kick-start their morning with breakfast, looks like the kids were right. (BTW - the clear bag holds a low-fat or yogurt, a fruit, and a whole grain cereal/bar/waffle.) Kids suggested that some girls were intimidated by male peers in exercise classes - and "Girl Club" for fitness was born.

Bottom line: Kids can energize kids in ways that no adult, policy, or regulation ever can. Getting kids to embrace healthy habits is about more than legislation, regulation, and education - it's about internal, intrinsic motivation that comes from the heart.

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