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Renton students put teeth in healthy diet

A new digital menu board is designed to identify healthy food items for high school and middle school students in the Renton School District. - Submitted
A new digital menu board is designed to identify healthy food items for high school and middle school students in the Renton School District.
— image credit: Submitted

As the nation recognized National School Lunch Week Oct. 10-14, five King County school districts, including Renton, have started on the road to improving school nutrition.

Implementing programs this year, the Renton, Auburn, Highline, Kent and Seattle school districts have all taken steps to present healthy choices for students, working to fight childhood obesity and other ailments.

In Renton new digital menu boards have been placed in all the high schools and middle schools and healthy choices will be noted with a student-designed icon. The digital menu boards will provide calorie information as well.

The icon, an apple, was created by a student nutrition council, a 30-member group of students from all three Renton high schools, who started meeting last year. They are led by district nutrition specialists.

In the future, the icon will appear on floor-length signs, point-of-sale signs and right on the entrees themselves to identify healthy choices among the other options that exist in school lunchrooms.

“We’re not taking away the pizza, we’re not taking away the cheeseburgers or anything,” said Kira Acker, nutrition services and warehouse manager for the district. “We’re just showing them what is a healthy choice and teaching them that they can make healthy choices everyday.”

Vending machines will also have nutrition labeling with calorie information.

The district has also switched to using whole grain breads and lowering sodium in foods.

The push to better educating children on nutrition has been in the works for awhile in the district, but these new measures have been funded after the district applied for and received a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant. It is a federally funded campaign to fight obesity and tobacco use through Seattle & King County Public Health.

According to a release from Public Health, about one in five school-age children in King County are overweight or obese, which increases their risk of health problems including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

They also note that since 1980, the rate of overweight children nationwide has doubled, and the rate of overweight teens has tripled.

The Renton School District is using peer influence to help shape children’s food choices.

The peer council has adopted the slogan “Healthy is Happy,” and they take pictures of their friends caught eating something healthy, which they will incorporate into the menu boards.

This, along with involving kids in public service announcements on healthy habits and cooking demonstrations from culinary students, is designed to prepare students for making better decisions when they reach the “real world,” said Acker.

“I feel like I’m making connections with kids and they’re giving me honest feedback,” she said. “We’ve tried to do surveys, we’ve tried to ask kids, you know, and you just don’t get constructive feedback.”

The most common responses Acker used to get were, “That’s gross” and “We don’t like that.”

By winter break, the district hopes to have the results from the data collection on fruits and vegetable consumption and the influence of the digital menu boards that they have been tracking with the University of Washington.

 

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