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Using Our Schools to Solve Childhood Obesity

 

Alan Wolnek, Letter to My Turn
June 4, 2012

Using Our Schools To Solve Childhood Obesity

 

Deerfield Beach, FLA -
We are constantly being reminded about the startling statistics and long-term effects of childhood obesity. As a childcare professional, I have seen firsthand the value and direct link between proper nutrition and academics in our children.

Recent data shows that nearly two-thirds of low-income Florida families can’t afford to give their children a healthy meal. As many children return home to find empty pantries, others rely on eating unhealthy meals, high in fat and calories.

Unemployment in Miami-Dade is above the national average and many parents are looking for assistance, as they simply can’t afford to feed their children healthy meals. As budgets are slashed, schools are desperate to find ways to help.

Schools, in particular, must be a national focal point for obesity prevention. Children spend the most of their day at school and consume half of their daily calories there.

The fact remains that schools are on a shoestring budget but what is unknown to many schools in Miami-Dade County is that funding has been made available that will allow them to serve additional healthy meals to their students. This is allowing them to play a bigger role in the fight against obesity.

In a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said "If you believe this is a massive national problem, you have to deal with it in a systems way; this problem is incapable of being solved with a magic bullet."

I couldn’t agree more.

Systems and measureable programs are essential in restoring nutrition to our children and tackling the problem of childhood obesity. We believe that one systematic approach is to engage children that are currently enrolled in elementary school after-school programs.

As the founder of After School Programs Inc, (ASP) in Florida we have initiated the “Free Healthy Supper Program,” one of the first programs in the state of Florida to provide children hot nutritious dinners at school, five nights a week. We are currently serving dinners at more than a dozen Broward and Miami-Dade schools.

Every school in Florida must maintain an after-school program between the hours of 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Schools either manage these programs themselves or outsource to organizations like ASP. In deciphering between these two options, schools, principals and parents should recognize that after-school providers often have access to apply for funding that schools might not even know exist. Funding is being made available at all levels of government but securing those funds can often times be a difficult and burdensome process for schools that are already short staffed.

ASP worked to investigate, discover and secure this funding. The funding is provided by the Federal Department of Agriculture and administered by the Florida Department of Health. The funding that we have secured is a five-year term that is feeding thousands of children in Orange, Broward, Dade and Collier Counties.

Since launching the “Free Healthy Supper Program” on December 1, 2011 we have served over 400,000 meals in over 50 of our after-school programs. We recently applied and were awarded the status of “unaffiliated sponsor” which enables us to help organizations outside of schools feed children in their programs so that fewer children go home hungry every day.

Schools and parents love this program because we are providing these children a healthy meal before they leave. And we know children love it because they are cleaning their plates.

This is one systematic approach that will pay off and I encourage schools to initiate a program of their own or work with a provider who can assist in the funding process.

Alan Wolnek is founder and CEO of After School Programs, Inc., which operates after-school programs across Florida. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement and The Boys & Girls Club in South Florida. He may be reached at Awolnek@aspkids.com.



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