Pilot project has young students eating healthier

Posted Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Chicken nuggets and tater tots might sound like a perfect school lunch to the average fourth- or fifth-grader, but at one Fort Worth elementary school the students have substituted healthier fare for fast-food offerings.

The pilot project at De Zavala Elementary, a partnership of the school district and city of Fort Worth, resulted from the work of Steer Fort Worth, a group of young leaders appointed by Mayor Betsy Price. The group's education task force focused on childhood obesity, caused mostly by poor diets and lack of exercise.

The resulting health issues often cause students to miss school, underperform in the classroom and exhibit more erratic behavior, according to Carlo Capua, education task force chairman.

Data gathered by Cook Children's Medical Center in 2008 showed that 31 percent of children ages 2 to 15 in Tarrant, Denton, Wise, Parker, Johnson and Hood counties were overweight or obese. A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that statewide, 15.6 percent of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 were overweight and 13.6 percent were obese.

The Steer Fort Worth group focused on revamping De Zavala's lunch menu and got students and parents to taste foods and discuss nutrition and health.

When the new menu kicked off Wednesday, with the mayor and community leaders there to watch, students dined on roasted chicken (with butter spray instead of oil); green salad with yogurt ranch dressing and mock mashed potatoes made with cauliflower and low-fat sour cream, Star-Telegram writer Jessamy Brown reported. Doesn't sound quite like your old-school cafeteria.

Healthier school menus, a movement catching on in North Texas and across the country, is just one way to fight childhood obesity.

The city, school district, Tarrant County Public Health and others have created more programs to challenge children and adults not only to eat healthy -- in and out of school -- but to engage in regular physical activity.

Fighting childhood and adult obesity -- to reduce their accompanying medical and social costs -- takes individual commitment. But the challenge also must be shared by families and communities.

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