Pennsylvania school districts set goals and improved snacks and a la carte offerings to meet federal legislation for reducing childhood obesity, but opportunities for physical activity did not improve in most schools, according to Pennsylvania nutritional scientists.
"Pennsylvania was one of the few states to collect and analyze plans to ensure that they addressed childhood obesity," said Elaine McDonnell, projects coordinator, Project PA. Project PA, a collaboration between Penn State's Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Division of Food and Nutrition, partners with schools and their communities to provide sound nutrition education and to promote children's healthy eating behaviors
The Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children Reauthorization Act of 2004 required that all local education agencies develop wellness policies to address childhood obesity by the start of the 2006 school year. Each school district had to create at least one goal to improve wellness in each of several categories: nutrition education, physical activity, availability of nutrition guidelines to students, and other school-based activities to address student wellness.
Pennsylvania's multifaceted approach included mandatory training sessions for all school food service directors and financial incentives to schools that adopted state-created nutrient standards for a la carte food items.
The researchers surveyed superintendents from 499 Pennsylvania school districts. Nearly all schools complied and worked with the state to formulate plans that would in some way target obesity.
Nearly 75 percent of respondents reported improvements in food available through vending machines and in a la carte offerings -- most often chips, cookies, and other snack food. Also, more than half of the school districts reported that nutrition education at their schools had improved as a result of the Child Nutrition Program legisla
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