Rules set exercise, food at isle schools
Policy aims to encourage kids’ healthier lifestyles
STORY SUMMARY »
As part of the nationwide fight against childhood obesity, Hawaii's public schools in January will adopt strict nutritional and exercise guidelines designed to get kids eating and living better.
Some of the guidelines of the three-year project will:
» Prohibit snacks and beverages available at school, offered in classrooms, or sold at fundraisers if they have more than 8 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving, except for nuts and seeds.
» Ban food and beverages whose first ingredient is sugar, such as candy.
» Give students at least 20 minutes daily of supervised recess and make sure they aren't inactive for two hours or longer.
» Impose a minimum of 1 1/2 hours of physical education and health education for K-3 students a week, 1 hour and 50 minutes for grades 4-5, 3 1/2 hours for grade 6, and about 6 1/2 hours for higher grades.
One Hawaii education official says that to meet the new guidelines, the state will need more physical education teachers.
FULL STORY »
Pizza parties and sales of Spam, cookies and other junk food in fundraisers at Hawaii public schools could soon be over under new health guidelines by the state Department of Education.
In January, schools will launch a three-year plan using "wellness guidelines" that list strict nutritional standards for food and drinks available on campus, time for physical education and health classes, and ways to encourage healthy lifestyles.
The rules originated from a 2004 U.S. Department of Agriculture law that instructed state education departments under the National School Lunch Program to develop initiatives to fight childhood obesity, which affects about 9.9 million Americans ages 6 to 19, the American Heart Association estimates.
In Hawaii, about one in every three students consider themselves overweight, state data show.
Isle schools have until Dec. 31 to form a committee of staff and community members who will monitor compliance with the guidelines and send annual reports to Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. It's unclear if schools failing to meet the standards will be penalized, but officials are optimistic all will comply.
"The goal is to make sure that the recommendations are being followed," said Dave Randall, coordinated school health education specialist with the state Education Department. "Everybody should be up to speed."
The guidelines include banning food and beverages if the first ingredient is sugar, such as candy, and giving students at least 20 minutes daily of supervised recess.
Some schools, like Kaneohe Elementary, already offer activities like intramural sports and a 45-minute fun run in February to keep students moving.
The 600-plus-student school also began giving fifth- and sixth-graders a 10-minute recess before lunch three years ago. The break reduces cafeteria lines and cuts food waste as students eat more after exercising, said Principal Mitchell Otani.
"They spend a little more time sitting, eating and talking," he said. "They are more calm, they are more rested."
Nationally, some schools have taken more extreme steps.
At Woodland Hills School District in Pennsylvania, children were not allowed to bring candy on Halloween this year, the Woodland Progress of Monroeville, Pa., reported. And in California, the Corning Union Elementary School District's wellness policy was revised to allow one food or beverage outside nutrition standards in classroom parties after faculty and parents protested rules were too strict, according to the Red Bluff Daily News.
One key goal of Hawaii's policy is to ensure students are getting recommended time for health and P.E. by demanding that schools have a certified instructor to teach all P.E. courses with "a student-teacher ratio similar to other classes."
Donna Ede, health and physical education specialist with the Education Department, said the state will likely need to recruit P.E. teachers from the mainland to deal with a shortage of employees.
For example, she said, Hawaii has 87 P.E. teachers for 180 elementary schools, meaning that some instructors teach the subject without having experience. And an estimated 80 students expected to graduate with certified P.E. degrees from the University of Hawaii and Brigham Young University in the next five years won't be enough to fill vacancies, Ede said.
"Of those, not all stay in Hawaii ... and there's going to be openings because of retirement," she said.
To meet food guidelines, schools will be able to access a Web site with links about ideas for healthy fundraisers and snacks. Education officials also anticipate grants from partners like the Department of Health to train teachers about nutrition.
The Education Department also will point schools to a Healthy School Index, an online self-assessment chart offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already in use by public schools in Tennessee and Arkansas.
"In elementary schools, when a student has (a) birthday party, moms will bring cupcakes. The teacher would encourage them to bring healthy snacks," said Glenna Owens, school food services program manager. "At a food science class, a teacher could ask for salad fundraisers or fruits, or have a vegetable of the week."