Sullivan County

School lunches focus of childhood obesity conference

Heal Appalachia project

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Childhood obesity is a problem that is only getting worse here and across the nation.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, but a local organization is trying to turn those statistics around in our region.

It's a mission to heal an epidemic that's impacting far too many of our region's children. "On average, about 30 percent of the children in our region are obese and overweight, which is really staggering," said Joanna Swinehart with HEAL Appalachia.

Those numbers may be staggering, but HEAL [Healthy Eating Active Living] Appalachia is hoping to change them. "There's not a silver bullet. There's not a magic pill. This is what we've known for several years is that we need everyone to be involved," Swinehart added.

This year, the organization's encouraging more involvement in the school lunchroom.

Ron Fink, the director of school nutrition for Bristol, Tennessee city schools told us, they're wanting to embrace fresh, well cooked vegetables more than ever before. "[We're] trying to increase participation, trying to educate students better, trying to make them love to eat great, simply prepared foods," Fink explained.

We learned for the past decade, Sullivan County schools have lowered sodium and fat in foods and are also raising the bar on fruits and vegetables. "Every child does have to take a half a cup of one or the other on the plate ever day and that was new beginning this year," said Lisa Holt, Sullivan County's nutrition manager.

Nutritionists told us only about 10 percent of what kids eat comes from a school cafeteria. That's why they said parent involvement is essential to battling childhood obesity.

Fink said they're hoping to develop some parent nutrition training like, "small teaching classes where you teach a small group of parents to cook. You just got to light that fire, and go back to the basics," he said.

It's an initiative that might make healthier foods taste more like home, making low-calorie lunch lines more appealing.

That's something mom Sambra Hayden hopes to see sooner rather than later. "It'll make things a whole lot easier for the kids to expand their pallets and to have better food, better nutrition," Hayden said.

We also learned United Way Virginia Highlands officials announced today they will partner with HEAL Appalachia to help offer new grants to implement a program that stresses eating fruits and vegetables, exercise, and eliminating all sugary drinks.   

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