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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

A Thirst for Change in Schools

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A Thirst for Change in Schools

Childhood obesity and diabetes are hot topics right now—as are a number of other health risks that result from taking in too many extra calories. Let’s look at small changes we can make to help our kids.

Sugar-sweetened beverages make up a huge chunk of these extra calories in our kids’ diets. It’s no surprise then, as we learn more about the impact of sugary drinks on health, that more and more schools have become aware of this concern. But simply being aware isn’t enough! What’s the point of talk without the walk?

What is the USDA doing to help?

The reality is, though, that change is actually in the making. The USDA has proposed putting a standard on national school sales of foods, including à la carte items, vending machines, and school stores. As of 2014, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has partnered with the USDA to create new beverage standards and means of identifying beverage products that meet these standards.

What effect will these changes have on our schools and children?

These standards can make a huge difference to the health of our children and putting them into action is key. In fact, the government’s action plan for school beverages is having a resounding impact. With the help of the combined efforts of the USDA and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the new standards are now being implemented in local schools. Schools that put these standards into effect saw a 90% decrease in the number of calories shipped to schools between 2004 and 2010. Also, while 77% of school beverages were considered unhealthy in 2004, this percentage dropped to 35% by 2010. This is great news for parents committed to reducing their kids’ exposure to drinks that provide little beyond sugar and calories.

Will these strategies help private schools too?

But remember: these standards and policies set by the state and local government can only reach as far as public schools. Private schools, which are attended by 10% of school-age children, aren’t under any obligation to follow the new standards. This means that 10% of school-age kids have free and unrestricted access to sugar-loaded beverages. In other words, 10% of kids attending schools are still at risk from developing the health issues that come from consuming too many calories from sugary beverages. Essentially, both private schools and public schools need to collaborate to most effectively make changes towards the betterment of child health.

10 Steps Private Schools Can Take

  1. Replace sugary beverages with naturally-flavored water, bubbly water, or plain water -starting in preschool!
  2. Take advantage of new, healthier options coming onto the market. Replace well-established sugar- or artificially-sweetened beverages with naturally fruit-flavored, zero-calorie options without artificial ingredients.
  3. Hang posters around school campuses that promote water, low-fat milk or herbal teas for healthy hydration. Be sure to use fun visuals to make the healthier options look more enticing to children.
  4. Encourage faculty and staff to model healthy drinking behaviors and avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in front of students. Have fun tracking your hydration with the Super Crew drink tracker.
  5. Provide education material for parents to support healthy beverage consumption at home. All of SuperKids Nutrition articles can be printed as PDFs.
  6. Encourage use of drinking fountains around school. Consider bringing attention to fountains by using posters or signs.
  7. Provide filtered water machines in classrooms or around campus that offer cold water refills for reusable bottles.
  8. Offer water, cold tea with fresh fruit slices, or hot tea in place of soda and juices at celebrations or parties.
  9. Discuss the body-benefits of hydrating right in physical education and health development classes
  10. Feature healthy-living ideas around your school site and include tips for the most effective way to hydrate during school sports.

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About the Author

Picture of Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's in nutrition education. She is the founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. Read more about her Super Crew children’s books and her experience as a registered dietitian on the About Melissa and Shop page. Discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her plant-based books and newsletter on Melissa’s Healthy Living.

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