Schools improve nutrition, Gwinnett exceeds USDA guidelines

SUWANEE — Nationwide, soft drinks and junk food are becoming less prevalent in schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study that said soft drink advertising and junk food in vending machines are both down in the last seven years, while the amount of nutritional information sent to parents, and the nutritional standards in schools, are both up.

Closer to home, Gwinnett County Public Schools has received several accolades for exceeding U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, including initiatives such as the Farm 2 School program, spokesman Jorge Quintana said.

“A registered dietitian and an executive chef work together to create a balanced menu that is both nutritious and tasty for students,” Quintana said.

The CDC reported that more students nationwide have access to healthy food and physical fitness activities and initiatives such as “Let’s Move.” The CDC said the study, called the 2012 School Health Policies and Practices Study, is the largest and most comprehensive survey to assess school health policies.

“Schools play a critical role in the health and well-being of our youth,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a press release.

Some key findings of the study are the percentage of school districts that allowed soft drink advertising dropped by 13 percent to 33.5 percent from 2006 to 2012. Also, 43.4 percent of districts prohibited junk food in vending machines last year, up about 14 percent since 2006.

Gwinnett was among the 52.7 percent of districts that provided information about nutrition and caloric content of foods available to students in 2012. Quintana said 128 GCPS schools participate in the district’s Nutrition Education Training project. Last school year, school nutrition staff made 2,304 NEAT classroom visits that reached about 46,000 students.

The district also publishes monthly nutrition newsletters on its web site, where it also has an “Ask the Dietitian” feature in which parents can ask questions and discuss special dietary needs with the district’s registered dietitian.

In GCPS elementary schools, each school provides a minimum of 90 contact hours of instruction at each grade level K-5 in health and physical education combined, Quintana said. Nationwide 93.6 percent of districts in 2012 required P.E. in elementary schools, which is up 11 percent since 2000.

GCPS is also among the 67.5 percent of districts in 2012 that banned tobacco use during any school-related activity, up 21 percent since 2000.