Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vermont: Healthy and Hopeful

The bucolic state of Vermont boasts breathtaking fall foliage, frosty winter ski slopes, and above-average health. Although the spectacular seasons encourage healthy behaviors from Vermonters year-round, state officials have helped to make wellness a priority for the citizens of Vermont from a very young age. Vermont Healthy Schools is just one of several exciting initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity and reducing obesity among children throughout the state. The current school programs (put into effect in 2005 and updated to reflect current dietary guidelines in 2008) stress several key points:

Nutrition – Schools are required by law to offer healthy, nutritious options wherever food is present. (What qualifies as nutritious? "Nutritious foods are nutrient-dense foods including whole grains; low- fat or non- fat dairy products; fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables; lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans. Nutritious foods exceed the nutrient levels of Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value, which have been identified by the United States Department of Agriculture").

School Food Service – Schools must price available food options such that the healthier choices are more financially appealing to children. This means soda can no longer sell for $0.50 while the bottled water is priced a full dollar above that. In order to encourage healthy eating among youngsters, it is important to market the healthy options appropriately.

Promote Healthy Eating Behaviors – A minimum of 20 minutes is required to allow students to eat meals in a relaxed, non-threatening environment. Adequate transportation time to and from the cafeteria is non-negotiable.

Sustainability – Schools are encouraged to promote the purchase of local food products through partnerships with local farms, manufacturers, and small processors.

Physical Activity – Vermont legislation stresses the value of both instructional physical activity (P.E) and non-structured play (recess). Children benefit in different ways from the two forms of exercise but both are imperative for healthy childhood development.

Vermont’s plan is ambitious but necessary. The Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy guidelines bring to light the importance of targeting Vermonters at a young age to create a future of healthy citizens.

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