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Iowa's Quest To Improve Kids' Health

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Recently, I blogged about the impact physical education has on the health of our children. Although there is debate (both in the study I referenced and reaction to the blog) regarding the effectiveness of P.E., a new program in Iowa is using P.E. and a variety of other methods to improve the health of young people across the state.

The Healthy Kids Act was signed into law last year and will go into effect next year in schools across Iowa. There will be physical activity standards, mandatory CPR training and healthier food choices in schools. For example, soda will not be sold in schools, and the only way for students to get it will be to bring it themselves. Lunch entrees will be less than 400 calories, and a food will not be offered if more than 35% of the calories come from sugar and fat.

Every student in grades K-3 will need at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Students in grades 6-12 will be required to have at least 120 minutes of activity per week. If physical education classes don't help the children meet these requirements, then the school will work with parents to develop a plan that the parents will need to monitor. Sports will count, as will non-traditional activities like volunteering to shovel a neighbor's driveway or rake leaves. The schools also plan an educational component to the program, so that they aren't just requiring exercise, but also teaching the children about healthy living.

I remember when I was in grade school, there were no vending machines and you certainly couldn't buy a Pepsi at school. The drink choices at lunch were white or chocolate milk, or orange drink. (Of course I always went for the chocolate.) You could bring your own drink, but soda was not allowed. I usually packed my lunch, but Mondays were "Chicken Nugget Day". So I enjoyed nuggets with a side of French fries once a week. My, how times have changed.

Although they might have some hurdles with the implementation of this program (such as parental participation in the physical activity requirements), I think this is a GREAT step to improving the health of our young people. I would love to see more states enact such standards.

What do you think?

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I'm going to consult with some people that I know who work at schools here in Iowa and see if this is really the case. I find it hard to believe that parents are policing their children and turning in "factual" exercise minutes each week (in regard to shoveling walks, etc). I can remember the "read a million minutes" program. My mom signed off weekly that I did the reading because I told her I did... but I was in middle school... did I read it? Not a chance! But because she didn't police it, I got away with it.

my mother-in-law is head cook at an Iowa elementary school. I will ask her if this policy is really being enforced (with regard to food choices and calorie content). Somehow, I doubt it's really being implemented.

if it is, however, kudos to Iowa for stepping up. unfortunately, that was during the time of Gov. Culver, and since Gov. Brandstad came in, he's cut so many school programs. This is probably one of them. The one that affects my children's immediate future that was cut is the preschool program that provided funding to public schools to provide more teachers so more children can be taught. Our local public elementary school only had room for 10 students in the preschool program last fall. This fall they're supposed to have room for 25, but that was before Gov B took over and cancelled the preschool programs.

This is a great idea (the healthy kids act). I hope it's actually being used. Report
I lived outside of Chicago in the early 1970's. We had Hamburger Day once a month. For less than a dollar we stayed at our desks and Mcdonalds brought in a meal for everyone consisting of a hamburger, small fries and a milk. I remember how exciting this was! There was no such thing as going out for fast food at my house with my stay-at-home Mom cooking every night. Report
In Australia (NSW) kids in K-6 must do 40 mins physical activity/sport/PE every day. I mostly pack my son's lunch, but our school canteen's menu is designed by a dietician and only healthy foods, low fat, low sugar, low salt items available for the kid's to purchase. We have "munch and crunch' mid afternoon, where all the kids have a 10 minute fruit/veg break to encourage kids to eat more fruit and veges. The kids bring their own, and my son now eats carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks...peer pressure for munch and crunch variety works well for us! Report
I am not from Iowa but I think that PE should be manditory through the school years. I was active during those years and didn't have a problem with my weight and I hated PE.
I feel this way probably because my one daughter is alittle on the heavy side and my other one is obese according to her weight, height, and age. She is not active at all. When I try to help she gets mad. I think if there was more info in schools on health and more PE it would help more during school years anyway. After they graduate they will have learned more and know more and hopefully it will help them with their chooses and will be their responsibility to keep active. Report
I think it's good that the schools are 'trying' to provide healthier food for kids. But it's not just about calories. The meals should be nutritious. True, parents could keep their kids' meals healthy by sending them to school with them, but why not make the 'hot' lunch better? Is it the same problem we all face? Eating healthy simply costs more!

Also, what about making P.E. fun? I know it stopped being fun for me toward the middle grades. Run around the track, climb this rope...and more than half the P.E. teachers I encountered (I moved around a lot) were more than a little overweight, and more importantly, didn't participate themselves. What sort of example does that set?

And making the parents enforce the state's ideas? That's not right.

I honestly don't know what the perfect solution would be. Should we stop caring so much what 'other' people do. My kids are 'pretty healthy.' What do I care if Joe Blow's kids aren't?

My parents weren't on my case to stay active as a child. I just went out and played. I would jump rope until the sun went down because it was FUN. Nowadays, I take my kids to the park (even though I loathe it) and out in the yard, they run around like crazy kids having FUN. Report
Nazi Report
Let me amend that, Pepsico pays the district to install the vending machines and be the sole source of the food that is served. They did away with the ovens, stoves, mixers etc. and now just have warming ovens. Report
Whoa, the school receives revenue from soda sales? Is anyone aware of the fact that Pepsico PAYS the school district? My children's school district in CA was paid $1,000,000 a year to to put in not only vending machines but, to do away with site cooked meals and serve the kids Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. Now that there was an uproar they have removed the soda machines and won't serve anything that has more than 200 calories.... sound good? Get this, good bye chicken sandwich (too many calories) HELLOOOO chocolate chip cookies! They make the calorie cut. True genius at work here. I'm just glad they haven't taken away our right to send lunch from home (yet).
Please, bring back the cafateria lady who cooked all our meals from scratch!!!!!! Report
Want your kids to get physical exercise? Get rid of the school buses and let them walk to neighborhood schools. I realize this is not possible in all rural school districts, but it certainly is within cities and towns. Don't feel sorry for the kids and drive them to school, shoo them out the door on the shoe-leather express. Report
The Community Y (YMCA-YWCA) in Marshalltown, IA is a leader in the nation of the Pioneering Healthier Communities initiative. PHC promotes healthier lifestyles, including nutrition and physical activity. The State and Federal governments MUST mandate healthy food choices in our schools. Many school PE programs are woefully behind the times, as well. The Government needs to allow our middle and high schools (this is my opinion, of course) to return to basic classes so that there IS time in the day for physical activity. Then our schools need to make the PE relevant to today. (You won't get many kids excited about 30-60 minutes of calisthenics or running the track.) A growing number of Y's are working with schools so kids can log activity/exercise toward their PE requirements. We ALL need to work on this--there are a lot of mal-nourished, unfit medium to thin kids out there, too! Report
Unfortunately, children are not learning healthy habits from their familys. IN a perfect world there would be no need for all of this but as we know this world is not perfect. I think something is needed! Is this the perfect answer? One said this is like communism? We are already feeding our kids crap at school and not letting them run around for a few minutes a day?? This is the way it used to be back in the day...was it communism then?? Report
Speaking as a teacher in Iowa, this is just another well-intended, but faulty piece of legislation. The parents of kids who need the physical activity the most are lying for their kids! Their "plan" doesn't have to include all school related activities (PE and/or school-sponsored sports). They are saying they will ride bikes or walk X number of minutes, but there is no way to be sure they actually do it. I had highly educated, normally involved parents REFUSE to sign the plan because "it's not your place to enforce physical activity"! It didn't matter that we were simply doing what the law told us to do! Again, I say, this is very well-intentioned, but a logistical nightmare! Report
Oh, & as for the "Physical Fitness Test"? They still do it, that is here in Nebraska. But for many schools, that aren't on block scheduling (meaning they only have 42 min for a class), it's hard to have an organized class period outside of the classrm. No time for it, especially for my science teacher hubby. He did take the physics class out 2wards the end of the yr to shoot off a model rocket 1 of the students made for the class. They had to figure it's landing in consideration to the wind, etc. It was clouding up, then there was lightening, & they couldn't go. Report
"Communism" (per Themanslayer) or NOT, it's about time! I was born & raised in IA, but hubby is a teacher & we have been transplanted to Nebraska. I wish this state would adopt such an idea! Wish hubby was back teaching in IA! Report
I don't have much confidence in the lunch programs getting better. La Crosse was a test site for improved meals this year. The Washington folks came and stayed a day to try the breakfast and lunch meals at the various public schools. They "liked what they saw." The breakfast that day was boxed cereals or pop tarts. Give me a break! Report
I wish something like that would happen next door in Missouri. The school lunches are disgusting and fattening, and the kids aren't required to do much physical fitness at all, in any way, in any class or extra-curricular. Report
I think it's naive to expect parents to "be sure" their kids are physically active when the chances are that the obese kids have obese parents and they're the ones who need it the most. The school should provide opportunities for the kids to be active. I wish more teachers would get creative with their teaching methods and do something that would get kids out of their seats. Or require activity during PE or recess. Whatever happened to President Kennedy's Fitness Test? Report
I think anything we do to help make schools healthier places is a good thing, but if we don't do something about making safe places available for kids to explore the outdoors, run and play and just have fun and be kids in an unstructured way too, we're still losing. We need better parks and safer streets to keep our kids healthy all through adulthood too! Report
Sounds like Communism to me. Report
Iowa has the largest per cent of college graduates of any state in the country. Report
YES!!! It's about time and hopefully other states will join in. Report
In Queensland where I live, the State Government has had a programme for healthy eating in effect now for a few years. I am a volunteer at the high school canteen and there is a colour system whereas Green foods can be sold everyday(salad and wraps) then there are Amber days and they can be served once a week and once a term we have a red day where ice cream or candy and usually "unhealthy items" are for sale.
No sodas are allowed but kids have now started drinking water. The teachers enjoy it and it is good to see that the kids have adapted. Report
I think it's a sad state of affairs that we must legislate healthy lifestyles! I think the Food Industry should be made to list all ingredients in LARGE letters, and on the front of every package. A pie chart showing the breakdown of calories from fat, protein and carbs would also be good. Restaurants should have nutrition facts next to each menu item. That would be a huge help! Education is truly the answer, but I'm not sure that mandating physical exercise in schools is enough to offset the bludgeoning of childrens' sensibilities by advertising on kid's channels. Watch some of the food ads on kids' channels .. and prepare to be amazed! Sugary cereals give you superkid powers!! Truth in advetising? I really don't think so. Sorry for the long post ... Report
It's funny that what was old is new again! This is just common sense and finally a state is seeing the error of our ways. I am not surprised that my home state of Iowa is leading the way for the rest of the country! Report
Awesome article, I agree with Iowa's idea;s for reform. And am with the pushto remove vending machines,unless they follow the same requirements of healthy food as the school kitchen. Report
This is fantastic. All of the states should put this into place. We have to consider the future and if we don't start now, I shudder to think where we will be in a few years! Report
I think getting the soda machines out of school is a great idea. It's either one extreme or another. When my kids were in elementary school I used to pack them a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and something sweet, like a few cookies. I thought that was pretty well rounded for a kid's lunch. Then I had read something from some school that teacher's were going to be confiscating sweets from kids' lunches so parents shouldn't send them in. Well, if all the kid has is a donut, a juice box and a bag of M&Ms that's one thing but if I want to add a dessert for my kid's lunch I would've been ticked off if the teacher had confiscated it! Then I went to the middle school for some reason and there were soda machines in the hallways and cafeteria! I thought that was absolutely ridiculous! Nobody needs soda, especially not teens who have to sit in school! With the sugar rush then the bottoming out, no wonder kids fall asleep in class! Report
Yes, times have changes SO much. Here in Indiana the government considers a large pretzel and cheese an entree for lunch. It's really sad. I remember when my elementary school got a salad bar. Everyone was SO pleased! Report
Excellent idea. Habits learned early will last a lifetime. Report
Way to go, Iowa! I am in Canada and I notice a phenomenon in school physical activities. The kids in lower grades tend to have more physical time. When the kids get older, middle school and up, there's less and less and by the time they go to high school it's all up to the kids. I remember when I was a kid PE was mandatory but now it's optional. It's a very sad thing. Report
Well being from Iowa, I think this is a great thing, I also work in a school and am confident that this is a step in the right direction. Too many kids sit in front of their electronics and are way too lazy. Not only are they overwieght but some are just plain lazy. They can't do much because all of their muscles are atrefied . ( I don't think that's spelled right)
Any way, I am looking forward to what this will do to help our kids and make them healthier adults who will make healthier choices. Not only in health but in every aspect of life. One good choice makes you want to make other good choices.
What a wonderful idea! I think it's disgusting that schools just give our kids any old crap. The kids can't speak up for themselves so as parent's we are responsible. We have to be vocal and demand that our kids receive better. Way to go Iowa! Report
I think this would be an excellent idea in New York State!! Especially the the food choices for lunch! Friends of ours tried to get a milk vending machine in our schools a few years ago and the Board wouldn't hear of it. They would rather their kids fill up and sugar drinks! I especially like the idea of more in PE class, something this area really needs!! Report
All states should implement that, PE should not be elective. As for food I was appaled at what was served for lunches when my kids were younger. There has been a big improvement over the last few years, and now middle and highschools in our area have a healthy salad bar, and other good choices-now if they can just get the kids to chose them. We had milk, chocolate milk, orange juice or lemonade as choices when I was in school-no pop. Report
EXCELLENT!!!! Anything we can do to instill in our children how to take care of their bodies by eating right and exercising is a HUGE benefit.
However, as a teacher, I'm seeing more responsibility put on the teachers to make sure parents are making sure their children are exercising. Also, I don't think students should be allowed to bring soda to school. If the school isn't allowed to provide soda, the students shouldn't be allowed to bring soda. I'm not picking in Iowa, it's the same in our school. How can we teach the nutritional deficits of soda and then allow them to bring it with them? I wish I had never taken my son to have his first McDonald's kids meal 18 years ago. That is when his soda addiction started. Report
It's about time . . . Our schools should set the best of examples. It's a shame that it takes government to legislate common sense. Even at the collegiate level, the funds raised from the vending machines of my campus went to the bottom-line budget. Report
Finally, a government with sense! There are so many studies lamenting how our youth have become obese. It makes perfect sense to feed and teach them about proper nutrition, encourage them to exercise, and make those items part of a classroom lesson. It's so much harder to lose the weight as we grow older, so we need to teach our young people proper nutrition and exercise throughout their school years, so they can follow good habits as they grow older. Report
I think this is a fantastic idea and wish they would implement something like this into the Ohio school systems. I have always been heavy and was one of the heavier kids in my class, but I was only a size 14 so you can see how things have changed in a little over 10 years. I see so many kids today that are already morbidly obese and they aren't even in high school yet. Our representatives need to take notice of this and take action. Too many parents are allowing their kids to spend more time on the couch than they do outside. Someone needs to step in and help these kids get on the road to healthy living. Report
My DW worked in a cafeteria at a school district for a short time. Both Catsup and potatoes were considered vegetables, so fries and catsup made up two vegetables!

I agree with folks who used to have a 1 hour mandatory P.E. class every day. If you played a sport, you always had 6th period gym so that you got 2 to 3 hours of exercise each day.

I can remember some overweight kids, but I have no recollection of any obese or morbidly obese classmates.

But, then again, I was born in the first half of the last century when a "healthy mind in a healthy body" was pretty much a standard everyone worked on. After school and homework, it was out-the-door for tennis ball baseball (in the streets!), tag football, etc. There was no ADD because excess energy burned off and we had an exercise "high" nearly all the time.

One thing I have noticed is that as P.E. went the way of the Dodo bird, we've seen an ever increasing number of overweight children.

One more thing - the reason there are soda machines in school is that it gives extra revenue to the school. Monies received from soda sales go to buy extras (more books then the budget allows, sports equipment etc.).

As a kid, I never remember having that problem in my schools Yes, the coaches drove the buses for away games and track meets, etc., but that was so they didn't have to spend their sports budgets on inconsequential things like time and a half bus drivers after regular school hours.

Go Iowa! I bet there will be a lot more healthy people at the Iowa Caucasus in the next few years. Report
We need to do something. I worked in a HS cafeteria this year and I was appalled by the food we are feeding our kids. And even the healthy vegetables are drowned in butter. We should focus on healthy eating and exercise for our kids or the US is going to just continue to grow in obesity. Report
additionally, and maybe even MORE importantly for the younger students, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY unlocks learning ... ordering, reading basics are both things that variety of physical education can teach children or ready them for the teaching of these skills...never underestimate phys ed... Report
Just another reason why I am a homeschooling mother. We eat healthy every day and exercise is an important part of our days here. Report
I agree that it's sad that it's gotten to the point that government is stepping in to regulate the problem, but at least it is an attempt to change! I think that the act sounds like a great idea! I was born and raised here and Iowa and I remember when I was in high school, it was the ala carte items that seemed to be the worst! (huge monster cookies, chips...pretty much junk food items) I think it's great that unless food items meet certain criteria, (fall within a specific calorie/fat range) they will not be offered! GO IOWA! :) Report
great idea. its common sense. i'm glad more people are taking childhood obesity seriously and not worrying about big companies losing a revenue stream (ie coke, pepsi, other vendors not being able to sell in schools). lets take it nation-wide!!!! Report
I could have used an Iowan program like this when I was a kid. Maybe I wouldn't be battling weight loss so frequently. Report
I personally think it's great that Iowa is going to be offering healthier options for lunches and requiring physical activity for 120 minutes a week. But I also think it is sad that it has come to this.

The government shouldn't be the ones telling our kids that they need to eat a healthy meal and go outside to play instead of sitting in front of the tv at home parents should. That is what you are there for to tell your kids right from wrong and to offer them guidance in what the healthy options are.

I'm 24 years old and I grew up playing outside with my friends after school and during the summer, playing sports and going to gym class for at least a half-hour every school day. The food at school was definitely not what I"d call healthy, but they did offer a salad bar everyday instead of the hot lunch if you wanted it.

What people need to realize though is that if it is that important for your kids to get a healthy meal and the schools can't afford or won't offer it you need to make it yourself. Lead by example; show your kids that you don't need soda to get through the day and that french fries are not a vegetable. Show them that playing outside can be fun. Be a good parent and show them how to lead a healthy life! Report
It is a great idea. The way that soda (and a lot of other unhealthy products) get into schools is through the efforts of corporations. It is worth money to them to develop brand loyalty early, and beyond the reach of parental supervision. Schools are supposed to act "in loco parentis" (with parental concern) when our children are in their care, but they have done a lousy job when it comes to promoting good nutrition! I'm all for the law. Report
I wish Arizona would follow that example. This past year I packed my grand daughter's lunch every day. Then I knew she was getting a healthy meal. And she actually liked it better than what the school offered. Report
I think this is a great idea. I don't know why they allow sodas at school in the first place, there is absolutely no need for them. As a parent I would be willing to send the kids to school an extra 30 minutes a day if it meant PE everyday! Maybe it will catch on in other states. Report
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