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Monday, June 13, 2011

pushing the envelope

There are some things I am proud of for this past school year.

We let our oldest fly from the nest into the big world of kindergarten and public school and she has done smashingly.

I completed my second marathon.

I have managed not to lose my mind.

And I entered the world of creating change in the well oiled machine of the school system.

Last fall when Ella started school I was very disheartened to find that her school was feeding such young kids chocolate milk on a daily basis. I spoke to the head of nutritional services about my concerns and was told, essentially, that she did not feel chocolate milk contributed to childhood obesity and was a healthful option for kids because it got them drinking milk they would not otherwise drink.

There were so many thing wrong with this paradigm to me.

It has taken me the balance of the year and many ups and downs, slogging through the school parking lot and school events with a clipboard and petition in hand to work on changing the status quo.   I found that some people were strongly in support, some were on the fence and some simply didn't care.  I wrote a letter about why I thought this was important and stapled it to a fact sheet about childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, all sorts of scary facts about the damage that is done to a body system related to obesity, and the high price a child's self-image pays when he or she has weight issues. (And I even had some people persuaded to sign based on my handouts!)

Perhaps the two most frightening facts to me where that this is the first generation in history believed to have a shorter life span than their parents and that overweight children rarely grow up into normal sized adults.

If you look around at the size of kids these days, that fact alone will make you sit down and cry. 

Obesity, in all ages, is a national health crisis, taxing the health insurance industry and taxpayer with its insidious and never ending complications.

So  my thought is, why indoctrinate them early?  Why train their mouths toward sweet?

This is how much added sugar (not including the naturally occurring lactose in milk) is in a week's worth of chocolate milk served in our school (some brands have more added sugar):

How is this:

and this:

ever going to taste good all by itself? 

Finally, with all my data, articles and 80+ signature petition, I requested a meeting with the assistant superintendent to discuss the chocolate milk at the schools.  Since I have been doing this almost exclusively on my own until this point, I was beyond thrilled that two pediatricians (one of which is our pediatrician) who are both parents of students in this school system, came in support of my campaign. The three of us met with the head of nutritional services, the assistant superintendent and the health advocate for the school system.

In brief, the outcome of that meeting was positive, if not a tad frustrating that wheels of bureaucracy would be slow moving.  I was pleased to hear the assistant superintendent say that he agreed with everything I said.  I was cheered to see that the six people present all wanted to act on behalf of the children's best interest, even if we were not in full agreement as to how to achieve that.  The doctors and I were asked to join the School Health Advisory Committee for the district, whose main mission is to combat childhood obesity, and have that committee make a recommendation regarding the chocolate milk and then take it before the school board.

We met last week.

This committee has representation from all over the school and community: school nurse, physician, PE teacher, parents, community-based healthy living programs, parents and the head of nutritional services. We discussed the issue at length and I was pleased with so many things.  

Most importantly, the head of nutritional services, who it turns out may have the power to just implement this without going in front of the school board, has as she said, "started to come over to your way of thinking."  There was a lot of healthy discussion on the matter and the merits of keeping chocolate milk one day a week or getting rid of it all together.  She said she is inclined to get rid of it all together (!) since she doesn't want kids to just get hot lunch one day a week because they can get chocolate milk.  I loved when a community member said that there is research that shows how sweetened beverages alters your palate within a meal so, for instance, broccoli tastes more bitter when consumed alongside something sugary. 

More than the debate over added sugar and calorie comparison, the point that seemed the most persuasive, that people have responded the most to, is the philosophy behind giving chocolate milk as part of a lunch program and the message it sends to kids that the school approves of them being bribed with sugar to consume a nutritious food. 

I don't know if this will be a change that we will see this fall, but I have to say I wouldn't be at all surprised to see only white milk offered when crimson replaces green on the trees.

A few months ago, Ella told me that during lunch she said to her chocolate milk drinking friends, "You'd better drink that while you can because my mom is going to get rid of it."  I love that she is a believer.

1 comment:

Emilie said...

thank you for doing this! you rock!

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