Junk food rules mulled for schools

Friday, May 6, 2011

Members of the school board's policy committee were urged to consider adopting stricter and more comprehensive policies for student health and wellness at their meeting last week.

Michelle Ashley, director of coordinated school health, visited the policy committee's meeting and made some recommendations.

She urged board members to adopt a policy similar to Lincoln County's, which she called "strong, in-depth and research-based."

Ashley pointed out that body mass index is rising among students of all ages, and the school system needs to play a part in helping students achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

One of the Lincoln County policies limits class celebrations to one per month, and allows them to include only one "unhealthy" food.

"I don't agree," said Curt Denton.

"I'm just looking at it from a health perspective," Ashley explained. "During the day the school system can do our part not to contribute to obesity."

She met further resistance when board members realized most soft drinks as well as Gatorade, and drinks with caffeine would not be permitted.

"You're telling us what we can and can't do," exclaimed Denton.

"It's really going to help," Ashley said, and schools director Roy Dukes agreed with her, reminding board members that there is a big push to combat childhood obesity.

"I wish you could see the screenings," Ashley said. "It's a shock when a 5th or 6th grader weighs more than me."

"How are you going to police" the restrictions on food and drink?" asked Ann Tears.

"I have seen it done," Ashley answered. "It will take a serious buy-in from administrators. I'd just like us to make a start: get it on the books as a policy. I know it's not an overnight thing." Food service guidelines are about to be drastically changed to promote healthier eating, Ashley added.

The health screenings were another topic for the policy committee. Ashley told committee members that students are screened in kindergarten, and 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades. They are screened for vision, hearing, height and weight (used together to calculate body mass index), blood pressure, and, in 6th grade, scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine). The hearing test is required by the state, and the law only requires direct permission to screen height and weight.

In Marshall County, parents sign permission slips every time, leading to a tremendous amount of paperwork both for teachers and for Ashley and her staff. Ashley said she would like to see a "passive permission" system where parents sign and return a form from the student handbook just once, at the beginning of the year, if they do not want their child screened.

Committee members discussed the problems inherent in sending paperwork for parents home with students, and Ashley said her department was going to try to do something more efficient and less time consuming next year.