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New school year brings healthier food choices for students

Students across King County will have more options for healthy food this school year.

From healthier choices in vending machines to more local produce in the lunch line, schools are rapidly becoming better places to nurture learning and good health.

The changes are a result of both new national nutrition guidelines and local efforts by schools and Public Health – Seattle & King County in the fight against childhood obesity. About one in five students in King County are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of serious health problems in childhood and into adulthood.

“Our partnership with schools is starting to pay off with a recent drop in youth obesity for the first time in King County,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health - Seattle & King County. “We know that access to healthy food in schools is not only critical for health, but crucial for student learning.”

Students in Kent, Auburn and Renton School Districts will have access to more locally grown fresh produce thanks to a farm-to-school collaborative pilot that connects school districts with local farmers. The project is coordinated by Washington State Department of Agriculture.

A new grab ‘n’ go breakfast program will be piloted at Aki Kurose Middle School and Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. Students will be able to pick up breakfast on their way to class since students do better in school when they eat breakfast.

Seattle, Highline, Renton, Northshore, Auburn and Kent Public Schools will promote a local fruit or vegetable each month through Harvest of the Month posters in cafeterias and nutrition education in the classroom.

Highline Public Schools launched a new mobile app for Apple and Android devices. The free app allows students and families to see what’s for lunch at every school, review nutrition facts, and vote for their favorite foods.

Kent School District will continue to make changes in their school cafeterias such as offering salad stations at the high schools and placing healthy foods in locations where students can choose them easily.

Starting this school year, United States Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines will be expanded to all food and beverages sold in schools including vending machines, student stores and at fundraisers.

Vending machine and other snacks will have fat, sugar, salt, caffeine and calories limits.

Snacks must be at least 50 percent whole-grain or have fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient.

“We are delighted with the changes coming this school year to make all foods in our schools healthier and consistent with nutrition education taught in our classrooms,” said Wendy Weyer, Director of Nutrition Services for Seattle Public Schools. “We know that access to healthy, nutritious food supports student learning and helps establish healthy habits for the rest of their lives.”

The changes were supported, in part, by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Transformation Grant within the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. The initiative is a collaborative effort between Seattle Children’s, Public Health—Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and the Healthy King County Coalition (HKCC).

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