Because March is the National Dietetic Association’s National Nutrition Month, she tailored her lessons this month to distinguishing between what is healthy to eat and what isn’t.
“We used visual aids to learn about the difference between healthy food and junk food,” Vanderpool explained Friday.
A bulletin board in her classroom was split into two sides. On one side, ‘Nibbling Ned’ had box tops from cereal, oatmeal and other healthy items. The other side was littered with empty Reese’s Pieces packages and wrappers from other candies and junk foods.
According to a community health assessment by the Richmond County Health Department, at the end of the 2006-07 school year, about a quarter of the five to nine year olds in Richmond County Schools were considered overweight.
The children in Vanderpool’s class seem to have a better grasp on the subject following the month of lessons.
Keelan Fisher went through a checklist of healthy, and not-so-healthy, snacks with Vanderpool.
“Bread is a healthy snack,” she said. “Candy and chips are junk food.”
“It’s O.K. to eat vegetables at suppertime,” Ashleigh Hinton explained. “You eat junk food at birthday parties.”
The month culminated with a trip to Our Daily Bread Food Ministry where the 16 children in Vanderpool’s class donated five to 10 cans of healthy foods apiece.
The children also made up bags for the clients of the ministry, and drew big smiley-faces on them.
For Karlee Butler, seeing all that food in one place was a little bit of a shock.
“What is all that jelly for?” she asked about cases of grape jelly. “I like that kind of jelly.”
“They thought we were there to eat the food at first, and some of them wanted to climb the boxes,” Vanderpool said. “Once we started making the bags they had a great time, though.”
Throughout the school district, efforts like this one are being made to fight childhood obesity.
On her Web site, School Nutrition Director Lois Hood said the district plans to “seize the day to help combat the ever growing rate of childhood obesity in North Carolina Schools.”
“Our goal is to graduate healthy, happy and well-educated students in the 21st Century,” she said.
One of the ways they are “seizing the day” is by including nutritional information such as the amount of calories and sugar in each meal on the school’s menus.
“Listing nutrition facts on our school menus is just one small way in which we empower students and parents with information that can positively impact their health,” Richmond County Schools Public Information Officer Ashley Simmons said. “There are a number of efforts throughout our schools to encourage students to make healthy lifestyle choices.”
She said child nutrition officials are in constant contact with health and physical education instructors, nurses and other teachers and administrators to address childhood obesity.
“As a district, we are also fortunate to be well connected with numerous organizations in our community that promote and model healthy living among our students,” Simmons said.
This effort isn’t isolated to Richmond County though.
According to the Web site www.mypyramid.gov, the food pyramid itself has even changed as the nation tries to get control over obesity and related health conditions.
Many citizens are familiar with the tiered pyramid with grain on the bottom and fats, oils and sweets at the top, but the new pyramid has each food group occupying an equal space in it, and a stairway beside it.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the Pyramid in 2005 because they wanted to do a better job of telling Americans how to be healthy,” the Web site www.kidshealth.org says.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.