May 2014





NCCOR explores recent childhood obesity declines research in new webinar

May 13, 2014, NCCOR

Recent data has shown that childhood obesity rates are falling in many communities across the nation. In the latest installment of its Connect & Explore Webinar Series, the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) is examining the implications of this research, discussing lessons learned from public health leaders in communities experiencing these declines, and considering how these findings can be applied.

Join us at 2 pm, Eastern, on Thursday, June 12, for Connect & Explore: A Deeper Dive into Childhood Obesity Declines.

In just under an hour, we will: explore recent data showing declines in childhood obesity rates; hear insights from representatives of communities where childhood obesity decreases have been reported; and learn how to translate these findings for policy makers and the public. Speakers include:

  • Patricia B. Crawford, DrPH, RD, Director, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, University of California at Berkeley
  • Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC
  • Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH, Health Director, Granville and Vance Counties, North Carolina
  • Genoveva Islas-Hooker, MPH, Regional Program Coordinator, Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program

Also during our program:

  • Get introduced to funding opportunities from those that helped shape and support the funding announcements.
  • Hear about hot topics in childhood obesity, such as how USDA is exploring the effect of the food environment on household food purchasing decisions with the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

“Connect & Explore provides a unique platform for participants to hear lessons learned from a variety of leaders in the childhood obesity field including those on the front lines of obesity prevention,” said Laura Kettel Khan, NCCOR steering committee member and senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This event is free but attendance is limited, so tell a friend and register today! Please also consider sharing this information on your social networks using the hashtag #ConnectandExplore. We will also be live tweeting the event so be sure to follow the conversation @NCCOR. For those who cannot attend, the webinar will be recorded and archived on

To receive the webinar access information, you must register for this event:

Register for Connect & Explore: A Deeper Dive into Childhood Obesity Declines

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Publications & Tools

New NIH podcast explores research showing childhood obesity often starts before age 5

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recently released a podcast discussing an NIH-funded study that found an increased risk of obesity among children who enter kindergarten overweight. Host Barrett Whitener is joined by Dr. Solveig Cunningham, the lead author of the study. The study showed that overweight kindergarteners were four times more likely than normal weight children to become extremely overweight, or obese, by the eighth grade. The results suggest that by focusing obesity prevention efforts on children who are overweight by age 5 years old, can help kids who are most susceptible to becoming obese later in life.


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RWJF’s Bridging the Gap program releases new state law data and tools

Bridging the Gap (BTG), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has recently updated its website, including a new page featuring state-level obesity-related laws. The website updates also include new data files on state-level sales taxes on soda, bottled water, and snack foods as well as non-sales tax rates on soda and bottled water. Annual data (now including years, 1997-2014) are available for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The tax data are available here.

A number of data files have also been added to the coding tools state-level wellness policy related laws. Data files reflect state laws from school years 2006-2013 that relate to school wellness policies generally, including: nutrition education, school meals, competitive foods and beverages, physical activity, physical education, staff wellness, communications and messaging, marketing and promotion, implementation and evaluation, and reporting. Codebooks, coding guides, and state law citations are also provided. A detailed variable-by-variable and by-year frequency document also is available.

BTG has also added a new data file on their website which includes Safe Routes to School related laws. Annual data are available for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including laws effective from 2005-2011.


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Study examines availability of drinking water in U.S. schools

More than 85 percent of public school students attended schools in 2011-2012 that met a new requirement for providing access to free drinking water during school meals in the location where they were served, according to a new study from Bridging the Gap.

Researchers noted that most students attended schools that met the drinking requirement through existing drinking fountains — the study also found that only half of middle and high school students attended schools where the administrator reported that the drinking fountains were very clean. About 25 percent of those students attended schools where the administrator self-reported at least “a little” concern about the quality of water in the drinking fountains.


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New online calculator gauges how snacks measure up to USDA school vending guidelines

Alliance for a Healthier Generation has posted a “Smart Snacks” calculator on its website, which allows users to enter nutritional information about a specific product to see if it meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture Smart Snacks in School guidelines. The product calculator uses the type of product, first ingredient, serving size, calories, fat, sodium, and sugars to determine compliance. If the product is not compliant, the calculator displays the reason, such as calories from total fat exceed 35 percent.


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Childhood Obesity Research & News

Singling out 'fat' children isn't helping them lose weight

April 15, 2014, Desert News

By Emilee Eagar

Men and women trickled into a small conference room on April 15 in Provo, Utah. Before they could take their seats, they were asked to step on a scale.

“Should I take my bags off?,” one woman asked after peering around the corner and eyeing down the scale for several tense seconds.

“Uh-oh,” a man said. “Step on the scale with my computer and all?”

“Can I take off my shoes?”

But as they stepped up and looked down, their entire countenance changed.

“I’m between adorable and cute,” one woman said of the reading.

Another weighed in at “perfect” on the special scale.

It was all part of a discussion among public and private health partners from across the state on effective messages to help, not harm in the fight against obesity in Utah.

The class was part of a two-day Public Health Conference for the state, presented by the Utah Public Health Association to discuss various topics, including Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, first aid, gonorrhea, and social media use.

“Focus on the health, not the size, not the weight,” Terri Sory, chronic disease program manager for the Salt Lake County Health Department. “Get back to basics. So, eat healthy foods, exercise, and then love yourself.”

Sory presented research with Beverly Neville, who does health promotion for the Salt Lake County Health Department. They encouraged those in the public health field to take a more positive approach with patients.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed “morbidly obese,” “fat,” and “obese” were rated the most undesirable, stigmatizing, and blaming words health providers could use. The terms “overweight” and “unhealthy weight” were rated the most motivating words to lose weight.

Neville said studies show that an approach to obesity similar to anti-smoking campaigns may be too harsh, and it discourages those battling their weight.

“There is a lot of diversity,” Neville said. “Admit there’s size diversity and focus on the health rather than the weight.”

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner.

Rachel Lacy, who works in the obesity prevention program for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said mothers frequently ask her how to discuss food and exercise with their daughters.

“It’s so important as an adult to set the example,” she said. Don’t focus on your own size, weigh yourself constantly, or worry about the next diet.

Instead, talk about “exercising and being active with your family because it’s fun, because you enjoy it together.”

But breaking down social norms is a constant battle, she said. Several factors lead to obesity.

“Unfortunately it’s kind of a social norm that most people perceive obese or larger people as lazy, or whatever the stigmas are,” Lacy said. “On the flip side, we also see people who maybe be thinner or smaller as super healthy.”

Neville said the worst thing a parent can do is single out one “chubby” child.

Instead, the entire family should focus on health and work on it together.

“Providing healthy foods, providing healthy snacks, having set meal times should be something the whole family does,” she said. “It’s a family health thing, and not singling out of a child.”

Mary Lou Adams with the Weber County Health Department said she liked the new positive approach but said it is a tough goal.

“Appearance makes a big difference to a lot of people,” she said. “They don’t know how to separate the health part, between the health part and what people look like. It’s just a hard concept.”

Ashley Ottley said she often associates her own health with body size.

“I always say to myself, ‘I could lose like 10, 20 pounds,'” she said. “When, really, I should say, ‘I could eat more fruits and vegetables. I should do 30 more minutes of exercising than what I’m doing, rather than focusing on the result of what I actually see.'”


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Minneapolis leader turns school cafeterias into 'real kitchens'

March 3, 2014, Education Week

By Lesli A. Maxwell

Bertrand Weber had devoted his professional life — in boutique hotels and high-end restaurants — to pleasing the most discerning of palates.

But the breaded chicken nuggets and canned fruit swimming in syrup he saw on his son’s lunch tray pushed the longtime hotel and restaurant manager to swap a career in stylish hospitality for the decidedly less posh world of school cafeterias.

He was determined to transform what K-12 students in Minnesota eat at school.

“We were pumping our kids with processed food,” said Mr. Weber. “I became an angry parent.”

Now, more than a decade later, Mr. Weber is the director of culinary and nutrition services for the 36,000 student Minneapolis district, where he is overseeing a massive shift in what students in that city encounter in their cafeterias.

He is steadily phasing out prepackaged meals assembled in a central kitchen and trucked to school lunchrooms and replacing them with meals made from scratch and featuring fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats, and other ingredients that are locally sourced.

Butternut-squash turkey chili, heirloom-tomato salsas, and fresh salad bars are becoming fixtures in Minneapolis’ school lunchrooms.

What makes the ongoing transformation in Minneapolis remarkable is that Mr. Weber has done it with a food-service budget considerably smaller than those of similarly sized districts. When he came on board in January 2012, Minneapolis’ food budget was $15.6 million, compared with $23 million across the Mississippi River in the neighboring, and slightly bigger, St. Paul school district.

And he is doing it in a district where most of the 62 schools do not have fully functioning kitchens.

“It’s a really smart tactic he’s using to raise the image of his program so that participation rates go up and [he can] raise more revenue to do all the things he wants to do,” said Jean Ronnei, the chief of operations for the St. Paul district and the vice president of the School Nutrition Association. “For 30 years, if you talked about school food in Minneapolis, you were talking about airline-type food. He is completely changing that, and with it, completely changing people’s minds about what food is in that school system.”

Personal mission

Born in Switzerland, Mr. Weber, 57, brings a missionary’s zeal to the job of school food. And for very personal reasons.

His son, at age 7 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, requiring daily doses of insulin and close monitoring of his food intake.

“I went to lunch with him every day in that first year after his diagnosis,” Mr. Weber said. “The last things he needed were exactly the things being served in the cafeteria every day: highly refined carbohydrates and canned, syrupy fruit. I complained endlessly about the food.”

A short time later, his son’s district — Hopkins, in surburban Minneapolis — launched a search for a new food-services director who had a hospitality background like Mr. Weber’s.

“My family said to me that if I didn’t apply for the job, I could never complain about school food again,” he said. “They were right.”

He landed the job. Mr. Weber led the food-services program for three years in the 7,400-student Hopkins district, where he was able to introduce more fresh produce, purchase local food products, and involve students and the community in the planning of menus. He pushed hard to eliminate trans fats in Hopkins, years ahead of the recent federal mandate to do so.

From there, he left for a job overseeing nutrition and culinary standards for a privately owned food-management company that helped more than 180 districts across Minnesota and other Midwestern states bring fresh fruit and vegetable bars to school lunchrooms. He also got involved in the growing movement known as Farm to School and currently serves on the national network’s executive committee.

“That was a great opportunity to impact more kids,” he said.

Then, in 2011, the Minneapolis district’s longtime food-services director retired, and prominent members of the city’s local food movement urged Mr. Weber to go after the job.

First, he did some due diligence. He found that lunch participation districtwide was 58 percent, a dismal rate compared with St. Paul, where participation was at 78 percent. Cincinnati, a district of similar size and demographics, had a 70 percent participation rate. There was lots of room to grow, he thought, and the challenge of expanding and improving the meals program within the constraints of a public school district’s budget appealed to him.

But he also thought his candor in the job interview might backfire.

“I was very straightforward that if they wanted someone to do the status quo, go right over me,” Mr. Weber said. “And I said, if you want me for the job, it’s going to be about changing the system for kids.”

A real kitchen

In his first few months on the job, Mr. Weber went face to face with parents and students in multiple community meetings, soliciting their critical feedback.

“People were appalled by the food service, and I told them I was just as appalled,” he said. “I told them some ideas we had for making things better, but I also was very upfront that this was going to take time. I couldn’t just flip one switch and go from a food-packing plant to a real kitchen.”

For starters, even the district’s central kitchen had been stripped of nearly all its cooking equipment in the mid-1990s. There were no ovens. No steamers.

Still, to deliver as soon as possible on promises to bring real, or “true” foods into lunchrooms, Mr. Weber and his team began installing salad bars in some of the city’s schools. To pay for the first few, he tapped into his existing budget, but then quickly began seeking grants and other outside sources of revenue to cover the expenses.

As of last month, half the district’s schools were offering the fresh-produce carts, which feature items such as spinach, cherry tomatoes, cantaloupe, pears, three-bean salad, and couscous salad.

“It was important for us to get kids off fruit wrapped in plastic packages,” he said. “And it was a way to get skeptical parents paying for their kids to eat lunch at school again.”

Mr. Weber also began making immediate changes to the menus. Hot dogs were sourced from a local cattle company that raises grass-fed beef and were served on buns baked by school district cooks. And the Tater Tot hot dish — a beloved school lunch item in Minnesota — was revamped to be cooked from scratch by the district’s head chef in the central kitchen and assembled by school-based cafeteria staff.

But beyond parents, Mr. Weber had two other critical groups to persuade to embrace his vision for real food: students and his food-services staff.

To reel in students — especially hard-to-impress teenagers — he decided to test new recipes and menu items one day a week in select schools. Students at one high school quickly dubbed Thursdays “Real Food Day” and were enthusiastic about many of the new offerings like Asian cole slaw and fresh-baked ciabatta bread.

A year and a half later, lunchroom meals in some high schools have become so popular that students who usually left campus for lunch are staying, but not everyone who wants to eat in the cafeteria can because of time and space constraints.

“We’re maxed out in our high schools,” he said.

Mr. Weber said the biggest pushback he got initially came from older employees in food services and the union that represents them. “Some people worried we were making too many changes that were affecting people who had been here a long time,” he said. To help ease the transition, Mr. Weber offered culinary classes and prep-cook training for staff members who needed support in moving away from the assembly-line approach to food service.

Attracting customers

Bernadeia H. Johnson, the superintendent in Minneapolis, credits Mr. Weber for “revolutionizing” school lunches in the district.

“Our students are eating healthier meals that keep them satisfied for a day of quality learning and instruction,” she said in a statement. “Lunch menus are full of variety and often introduce students to new and different fresh ingredients, including foods that reflect the ethnicities of our students.”

Since Mr. Weber started just over two years ago, overall participation in the district’s meals program has grown from 58 percent to 66 percent, most of it among the 35 percent of students who pay full price. Participation among those who qualify for free- and reduced-price meals has also ticked up, from 72.5 percent in 2011 to 87.5 percent. To help pay for the array of food and nutrition initiatives spearheaded by Mr. Weber, lunch prices have been raised by a dime, but only for students who pay full price. Mr. Weber also has begun serving breakfast in classrooms in 20 schools, with plans to expand.

With 30 more salad bars to install and most schools still without kitchens and equipment to do on-site cooking, though, Mr. Weber and his team have hustled to raise private money to keep their momentum going. A local fitness company and General Mills are among the benefactors who are backing the efforts.

He’s also found creative ways to buy local, organically raised food products within his budget.

Among the 60,000 pounds of local produce he bought for the district last fall was one farmer’s entire kale crop, damaged in a hail storm.

“We were going to chop it up anyway,” he said. “And it gave us a healthy vegetable to introduce to our kids.”

Mr. Weber has also drawn on his deep connections to local chefs and restaurant owners to persuade them to get involved in recipe development for the district. In turn, the chefs have agreed to endorse the recipes they create for school lunches on their own menus.

“He’s getting great support and publicity for what he’s doing,” said Ms. Ronnei of the St. Paul district. “Chefs endorsing school food? What a message that sends to the community.”


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School yoga program stretches out

April 23, 2014, U-T San Diego

By Gary Warth

The foundation that created a yoga program that sparked a lawsuit and drew international attention to the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) has quietly introduced similar programs to two other county schools and to schools in New York.

Gene Ruffin, executive director of the Sonima Foundation, said at an open house on April 23 at the foundation’s headquarters in Encinitas, Calif., that there has been no controversy in the program’s expansion, and he expects to announce two more schools where yoga will be introduced in the near future.

A University of San Diego researcher who attended the open house said a study on the effects of the yoga program in Encinitas has been completed and that it showed yoga had a positive effect on students’ health.

“The results have been fantastic,” Ruffin said.

In 2012, Sonima — then called the K.P. Jois Foundation — gave the EUSD $533,000 to begin a yoga program and to fund a study of its effects. Last summer the foundation gave another $1.4 million to expand the program to all Encinitas Union schools as part of district’s health and wellness curriculum.

The foundation had planned to create a yoga curriculum in Encinitas that could be introduced to other schools, but things got off to a bumpy start when some parents sued the district, arguing the yoga program was religious and a violation of laws regarding the separation of church and state.

Many other families, however, agreed with district officials who saw the yoga program as little more than stretching exercises.

Although the district had changed the name of poses to “crisscross applesauce” and other child-friendly, secular terms, a lawsuit filed by attorney Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy, argued that the very act of practicing yoga could lead to interest in Hinduism and other Eastern beliefs.

The lawsuit attracted international media attention and concluded last July with San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer siding with the school district.

The ruling has been appealed, but the foundation has not stopped expanding in the meantime.

In San Diego County, the program has been in practice at the Monarch School for homeless children for about a year. For the past three months, it also has been in a pilot program at two schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District [also in California].

EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird did not attend the April 23 open house because coincidentally he was the keynote speaker at the Yoga in Our Schools conference in New York.

Leighangela Brady, assistant superintendent of educational services … [for EUSD], spoke about yoga in the district and credited it with helping reducing excused absences, an indication that students are healthier.

“Campus behavior is improving,” she said. “Student achievement and emotional wellness is all being positively affected by yoga in our schools.”

Erin Spiewak, CEO of Monarch School, said students at her school have more stress than other children their age because they are homeless, and yoga has helped them relax and be self-reflective. Without the program in their school, she said, the students probably would not have access to yoga.

David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District, said yoga has been introduced in Bostonia and Madison elementary schools with none of the controversy it encountered in Encinitas.

As a former Encinitas assistant superintendent who helped create the yoga curriculum in his old district, Miyashiro has first-hand knowledge of the controversy.

Ruffin said the program also has been smoothly introduced in inner-city New York schools. The program is in three schools in the Harlem Village Academy charter school, Broome Street Academy for homeless children and East Community High School.

Ruffin read a letter from the East Community High principal, who praised the program.

“One student after another has come to me and said yoga allows them to relax and focus,” he said.

Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at USD, said the first year of a three-year study on the program has shown several positive effects on students.

Compared with students who did not practice yoga, students who did the exercises had more flexibility and had more core strength in the state fitness exam.

Himelstein also said the study found that students who were less fit liked yoga while they may not have liked other activities.


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