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Recognizing America’s Healthiest Schools

Kaiser Permanente partners with The Alliance for a Healthier Generation to honor schools that promote healthy habits.

Three-on-three basketball tournaments and games such as musical chairs keep students moving during the lunch period at Rio Vista Middle School in Fresno.

Students no longer sell candy or hold bake sales to raise money for school events. Instead they focus on magazine or book sales, Activities Director Genna Root said.

Those are just a couple of the reasons why the Alliance for a Healthier Generation recognized Rio Vista Middle School in the Central Unified School District with the bronze award for being one of America’s Healthiest Schools in 2017. The Alliance is a partner of Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools effort, and Kaiser Permanente is a supporting partner of the America’s Healthiest Schools campaign.

Today, about 1 in 5 school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with obesity are at higher risk for having chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease.

Across the country, 323 schools were recognized as America’s Healthiest Schools for 2017; in Northern California 10 schools received the honor. The schools earned the distinction by meeting a rigorous set of criteria for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education, and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.

No More Candy Rewards

In Fresno, 5 schools were recognized as America’s Healthiest Schools for 2017, and each of them participates in Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools initiative.

Both programs work to create a lasting culture of health in K-12  schools. That’s been the result at Saroyan Elementary School, which received the silver recognition from the Alliance in 2016. At Saroyan, students get excited about the fruit and vegetables offered to them at lunch, and teachers are more likely to reward students with a sticker than with a Jolly Rancher candy.

Two years ago, a committee of teachers and parents at Saroyan came together to help students stay healthy. Diabetes and obesity were already plaguing some of the students, Principal Patricia McCurley said.

The committee realized sugar had become too prevalent on campus. Rewards for good test scores or class behavior usually involved candy. Cupcakes, cookies, and donuts were a staple of classroom birthday celebrations.

Soon, changes began to take place.

Birthdays and good behavior were celebrated with stickers or a homework pass. The after-school snack bar was redesigned with healthier options. Baked chips and sliced fruit replaced cookies and sodas.

“I really got minimal pushback from parents,” McCurley said. “It’s hard to argue when you’re talking about the health of students.”

Carrots, Melons, and Salad — Oh, My

 Students line up inside Saroyan’s cafeteria, eager to peek at the day’s salad bar offerings.

That’s right — these kids want to eat their veggies.

 A sign above the salad bar invites students to take at least 1 fruit or veggie to complete their lunch meal. Each day they have 2 or 3 options to choose from.

Third-grader Eric Arredondo, 8, said he prefers to eat carrots and apples, and he doesn’t miss chips or other junk food.

“I like the stuff here, it’s good and it’s fresh,” he said. “They have strawberries sometimes. Those are really good.”

Bella Alvarado, 8, scoops salad onto her cafeteria tray. She said vegetables are her favorite foods, and her mom often makes peas, green beans, and “those green things that look like little trees.”

She added that she knows adding vegetables to her lunch every day is important.

“It’s healthier for you.”



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