Getting more nutritious food into our schools is a key goal of Public Health Seattle & King County and of my Local Food Action Initiative. Seattle Public Schools has embraced this idea, and is working closely with Health Department and City staff along with the YMCA to make this happen. A series of programs are underway and are making a difference in the lives and health of our kids!
We know that healthy kids not only have better lives, but are also better prepared to achieve academic success. It should be obvious that creating an environment that supports physical health is critical to the success of our schools and our society. The City has long supported this with our funding for school-based clinics through the Families and Education Levy.
But ensuring the health of our children requires more than providing clinic services. The new ‘Coordinated School Health’ strategy includes health and physical education, nutrition and health services, counseling, health promotion for staff, safe and healthy school environments, and family and community engagement.
A collaboration with Public Health focuses on creating healthier school environments and new nutrition standards for foods sold outside the school meals program, along with a re-branding of school meals to promote healthy eating and nutrition education. Next steps could include a strengthened Farm to School program and instituting a universal school breakfast/lunch program. A universal access program would get away from the administrative hassle and family issue of having to certify the income status of kids who get free or reduced price meals.
Seattle Schools are also partnering with the community on a program called Eat Better, Feel Better, which currently operates in nine schools. The goal is to encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, increase physical activity, and drink water rather than sugary drinks. Recognizing that families not only must be involved to support kids, but that all family members can benefit from this, the program hosts family nights, which have drawn as many as 300 people.
Through the School Based Health Centers funded under the Families and Education Levy, the City and School District are partnering on promoting healthy eating and active living. Seattle Parks is deploying a community kitchen model to promote healthy eating, including a program approach that focuses on ways to make traditional cultural food preferences healthier. The Seattle YMCA is also a full partner in their early learning and after school programs, which are organized around specific policies and practices that promote healthy eating and physical activity.
Turning a culture around is not an easy task. We have fallen into a pattern of poor eating habits and reduced physical activity that jeopardizes the health of a large proportion of the next generation. But we also have many strengths and commitments that we can build on to restore their health.
In order to make that happen, we must implement an array of approaches that will engage families, organizations, governments, and the community. Seattle Schools and their partner organizations are deploying a strategic approach that will make a big difference for our future.