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Western Pa. school officials want help in obesity battle

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:07 p.m.
Plum Advance Leader
Healthy eating posters are hung inside of the Osborne Elementary School cafeteria serving line Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. A federal mandate on school lunches was recently put in effect to help combat childhood obesity. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

School officials and dietitians say changes to school lunch requirements are only a small part of taking on childhood obesity.

Ann Condon-Meyers, a registered dietitian with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the new rules are a starting point.

“I respect (First Lady) Michelle Obama for starting the dialogue,” Condon-Meyers said.

“She has made it her mandate to get us talking about it. We have to start somewhere.”

Youngsters who are overweight and obese are at risk for health problems, she said. Childhood obesity affects 17 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. — triple the rate in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Children at a much younger age, as young as 10, are developing Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes and hypertension,” Condon-Meyers said.

Also, Children's Hospital medical professionals are seeing children as young as 12 developing orthopedic problems because their hips and knees are supporting too much weight, Condon-Meyers said.

She said, though, that healthy eating patterns have to start at home and can be reinforced at school.

“We can't completely change children's eating habits if it's not what their parents eat,” Condon-Meyers said.

Maryann Lazzaro, food supervisor with the Plum School District, said school lunches account for 16 percent of meals for students who eat one school lunch a day through the school year.

“That means 84 percent come from the outside,” Lazzaro said.

“We have been charged with making significant changes when we only feed children 16 percent of their meals. We can't do it alone. We need support at home.”

Plum School Board member Sal Colella also would like to see more classroom education about healthful eating habits.

“It is an educational process,” he said.

Quaker Valley's food services director Jennifer Reiser said that education in the classroom includes allowing the students to make suggestions on foods that would be served in the cafeteria.

Michelle Marker, director of programs and marketing for The Nutrition Group, a food service management company contracted by about 130 school districts in western Pennsylvania, said the company coordinates educational activities including a youth advisory committee.

Students on the committees get to taste-test food and offer feedback about selections in the cafeteria.

“Education is the key,” Marker said.

Sedentary lifestyles also contribute to obesity.

“We can't point the finger at school lunches and ignore what goes on in gym class,” Condon-Meyers said.

“Activity is just as important.”

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