Pilot Program Targets Childhood Obesity

Monday, November 27th 2006, 8:00 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ As part of a pilot program to fight childhood obesity, students in Stillwater Public Schools have daily access to fresh produce from nearby Whitmore Farms in Coyle.

Now, along with pizza and fries, Stillwater students can buy fresh strawberries, asparagus, squash and similar foods.

``A year ago I had kids who did not know what plums were. They certainly didn't know what asparagus was,'' said Vici Grimes, the district's child nutrition coordinator. ``I think when you give these kiddos as much fruit and vegetables as possible _ fresh, not bruised _ you're going to have some better success in teaching these kids about good nutrition.''

What's happening in Stillwater and schools participating in the state Farm to School program has sprouted interest in better food choices among students statewide. But critics say there's more yet to be done to fight childhood obesity.

In 2005, one in seven Oklahoma high school students was overweight, and another one in six was at risk of being overweight, according to state Health Department statistics. And, according to the ``School Foods Report Card'' released recently by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, low-nutrient sugary sodas aren't the only contributor to childhood obesity. Researchers also criticized schools for permitting student access to unhealthy foods through classroom birthday parties, vending machines, fundraisers and extracurricular events.

Nearly half of all states received failing grades, with Oklahoma getting a D. Twenty-two states ranked higher than Oklahoma, and Kentucky earned the highest grade, an A-.

According to the report by the nonprofit education and advocacy group, Oklahoma was given a D in large part because a state law designed to help curb junk food in schools doesn't outline strict enough standards for high schoolers.

Under Oklahoma Senate Bill 265, foods of no or low nutritional value _ as defined by the U.S. Agriculture Department _ will be prohibited in elementary and middle schools by July 2007, except on special occasions. Schools also must provide healthy options and pricing incentives to high school students.

In addition to not mandating stricter high school standards, Oklahoma drew low marks for using the USDA definition of unhealthy foods, a standard critics say is weak and outdated.