Mississippi is making progress in the fight against childhood obesity, and the School of Applied Sciences is helping schools across the state make headway, a U.S. Department of Agriculture administrator said recently.
Janey Thornton, USDA deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, spent several days visiting public schools in the state involved in the "Eating Good ... and Moving Like We Should" initiative.
Thornton praised the state's efforts—from the governor's office to individual parents—for making a difference in children's lives.
"I have been so impressed visiting some of the schools here," Thornton said. "Even the low-income schools with meager resources are helping to make a huge difference. Mississippi, and proudly so, has stepped up to say, 'We can change this. We don't have to live like this forever.'"
The "Eating Good ... and Moving Like We Should" program, funded by a Delta Health Alliance grant, aims to teach children in the South Panola, Quitman County and Bolivar County school districts to make healthy choices and engage in a more active lifestyle. Based on individual food and nutrition needs, the program provides students with hands-on education activities, such as healthy cooking classes, as well as offers educational information on general nutrition and lifestyle factors associated with chronic disease risks.
Mississippi's efforts stack up well against those of other states in recognizing its obesity issues that need to be addressed, Thornton said. While visiting several schools in the Mississippi Delta, she was encouraged to see school gardens with fall crops planted and updated cafeteria equipment, where healthier, locally grown vegetables can be prepared.
"We need a healthier generation because these children will certainly be our country of tomorrow," Thornton said. "We know that if we don't turn this around, then this generation will be the first not to outlive their parents."
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has granted $100 million to public schools nationwide to combat childhood obesity rates. The money has helped sow school gardens and replace deep fryers with convection ovens that steam, poach, roast, broil and bake.
"The investment is helping make American schoolchildren leaner, which will reduce future health care costs," Thornton said.
While on campus, Thornton also met with the National Food Service Management Institute national advisory council, which worked for two days to outline goals for the upcoming year.
"Having Dr. Thornton here to discuss national issues keeps us on the cutting edge and enables the institute to better plan and make us more effective," said Linda Chitwood, dean of the UM School of Applied Sciences.
The advisory council specifically focused on ways to better train school nutrition personnel to meet USDA requirements for its Healthier U.S. School Challenge, a voluntary initiative to recognize schools that have created healthier school environments.