New Job! School Nutrition Policy Coordinator

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I mentioned briefly on Sunday that I had taken on a new position recently and that I would "get to that later". Today is later so let me tell you about it.

Can you guess what area of nutrition? School nutrition policy, my favorite! I am sure I will get comments back and forth pro and con, as this has proven to be a controversial topic over the last 5-6 years. At least in my experience. Speaking of experience I'll give you some background first.

You may or not remember back in 2002 and 2003 when Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) passed two landmark food nutrition policies designed to improve the nutrition environment of schools. As the second largest school district in the nation this was a pretty big news story. Even got International attention.

The first motion, The Healthy Beverage Motion, essentially banned all sugar loaded beverages from being sold on school campuses during the school day. There were some unavoidable loopholes at the time, but for the most part they were in effect prohibited.

The Obesity Prevention Motion followed that addressed snack foods and other foods sold on campus outside of the school lunch program. LAUSD Board Member Marlene Canter introduced and authored these two policies and become well renowned and recognized as a school nutrition champion. As a nutritionist for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of working with Ms. Canter's office as an adviser on nutrition standards and as an advocate to garner school and community support to get these policies passed. This was an incredible time as LAUSD became the front runner in nutrition environment and policy change.

I left shortly after these motions were passed to gain experience actually working on school campuses to promote nutrition education. Prior to leaving, I facilitated a committee called The Lunch Review Panel that took a closer look at the school meals program (lunch and breakfast from the cafeteria). After I departed this arena, the results of the Lunch Review Panel led to a third policy The Cafeteria Improvement Motion. This motion set goals for a number of changes and improvements to the school food service system.

It is important to mention that all three motions addressed nutrition education in some manner and the current lack of it in our schools.

To get down to it, it's one thing to pass landmark policies and another to implement them across all campuses in such a huge district. And this is where I come in. After going full circle I am now back working with LAUSD as Board President Marlene Canter's School Nutrition Coordinator to facilitate implementation of these three policies. (*Did you get she's now LAUSD Board President).

It's a huge job if you look in detail at all of the goals in the motions. There are issues of compliance and a huge question mark as to how to incorporate nutrition education into the school curriculum. Because it is not tested, nutrition education (and PE for that matter) is not a priority (thank you 'No Child Left Behind'). This, despite the fact that we have an epidemic of childhood obesity and there is plenty of evidence to support that healthy fit kids do indeed perform better on standardized tests.

Oh, and did I mention there's no $ to support nutrition education school wide? Some nutrition education is occurring with limited grant funds, but it is sporadic and inconsistent even within individual school sites. Thus, one of the first areas of the policies I will be undertaking is this issue of how to incorporate nutrition education into the current curriculum without adding any extra work to teachers' already overloaded plates. I'll also work to garner support for the school food program and the changes it has made.

I've been at the position about a week and am in the process of gathering information. I hope to bring you updates along the way of progress. I welcome input from you if you know of other districts in your state or the country that have made great strides towards nutrition education. I've got high hopes!

Have a fruit and veggie filled school environment!
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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