A healthier region needs to start in school

[wide]health[/wide]Although there have been many educators in my family, I’m not among them. But I do know that the education of a young mind is a multi-faceted thing. More than just reading, writing and ’rithmetic are needed to turn a kid into a happy, healthy and successful adult. Often neglected as a crucial part of education has been teaching kids how to take care of their bodies throughout their lives. A history of inadequate, sometimes optional “gym” classes and cafeteria food that is often neither appealing nor nutritious makes for a health crisis that is improving in bits and pieces here and there, but slowly and with still a long way to go.

A recent conference in New Paltz demonstrated how to find resources for funding and motivating school staff and students to learn how to make big steps to improve student health. The Healthier Hudson Valley Challenge earlier this month at the Ulster BOCES Conference Center in New Paltz featured speakers, panelists and representatives of agencies and corporations offering encouragement to area school administrators and staff, as well as practical information and resources for improving the health of kids in their districts.

The need for leadership

I had to miss the beginning in order to ferry my own child to school, but when I arrived, Mary Joan McLarney, a registered dietician and nutritionist for the U.S Department of Agriculture, was telling the audience about a successful program she was involved with. Components included a parent breakfast every year and a recipe contest for kids.

“It’s about leadership at the school,” she said, and, “This is so broad sweeping because the whole culture shifts.”

In February, President Barack Obama’s administration released nutritional guidelines for snacks sold in schools, to encourage kids to choose fruits, low-fat wholegrain snacks and to limit sugary drinks. The USDA has proposed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, with standards for snack foods and beverages sold to kids at school. Too many still offer “junk” food and drinks to any kids with the spare change to buy them.

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