With encouragement from the feds, Kentucky schools focused more on healthy foods, less junk

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Sugary drinks, fatty snacks and chocolate candy are becoming harder to buy in Kentucky schools, which are paying more attention to health issues, according to the latest survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s latest biennial School Health Profiles for 2014 found big declines in the availability of junk food since 2014. Here are the specifics:

— Chocolate candy: 7.8 percent in 2016, down from 22.6 percent in 2014
— Salty snacks that are not low in fat: 13.7 percent in 2016, down from 26.1 percent.
— Cookies, crackers or other baked goods that are not low in fat: 12.0 percent in 2016, down from 24.1 percent.
— Soda or fruit drinks that are not 100 percent juice: 15.7 percent in 2016, down from 33.1 percent in 2014.

There was also a big increase last year in the number of Kentucky schools that banned less nutritious foods and beverages from being sold in fundraising, up to 36 percent from 23 percent in 2014, a news release from the state Department of Education said.

Schools are systematically paying more attention to health issues. The survey found that 66 percent have used the CDC’s School Health Index or another self-assessment tool to evaluate them in the areas of physical activity (66 percent in 2016, 56 percent in 2014), nutrition (62 percent in 2016, 53 percent in 2014) and asthma (35 percent in 2016, 21 percent in 2014).

More schools are offering opportunities for students to participate in physical activity before the school day through organized activities or access to facilities or equipment: 29.4 percent in 2016, up from 19.3 percent in 2014.

“Nearly three-fourths of schools have one or more groups such as a school health council, committee or team that offers guidance on the development of policies or coordinates activities on health topics,” the release said. “There were such groups in 74.7 percent of schools in 2016, up from 63.8 percent in 2014.”

The department and the Kentucky School Nutrition Association attributed the improvements to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that Congress passed 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks in School” regulation of 2014 and a review of the state education department’s Practical Living Career Studies program.

Janet Tietyen Mullins, a University of Kentucky extension professor of food and nutrition, said the improvements are encouraging, “because they can help Kentucky students reduce their risk of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases,” Valarie Honeycutt Spears writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Mullins told Spears, “These changes in the school food environment are a positive way to help students choose more nutritious foods. Everyone benefits from an environment where healthy foods are readily available, and the changes could also benefit school staff and guests.”

From Kentucky Health News

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