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DL Schools looks to change culture of health habits

School board members are entertaining the idea of encouraging a "cultural shift" in local health habits.

Karen Nitzkorski and Julie Skow of PartnerSHIP for health presented a first reading on revisions for the district's wellness-nutrition policy.

Suggested changes to the "action plan" include having recess before lunch instead of after, doing more marketing and health promotion through the food service program and prohibiting food as rewards or at school celebrations.

"We have experience with some schools around the region that have gone to no-food celebrations, and they've done more physical activity celebrations, and they've had very little push-back from parents," said Nitzkorski.

The suggestions evoked positive comments from school board members.

"I know as a kid if you would have given me the choice between a Snickers bar and an extra 10 minutes of recess, I'd have jumped on the recess every time," said Board Chair David Langworthy, "You'd be burning calories instead of ingesting them ... that'd be a great way to reward kids."

The presenters acknowledged changes like these would require a huge shift in habits for both students and parents, but believe it's one that is necessary.

"When you think about that extra 100 calories a day, when kids are sitting all day and getting a hundred calories five times a week, that adds up and we wonder why kids are overweight and obese," Skow pointed out.

PartnerSHIP for health is a state-funded program, which has already funded a couple of initiatives in the school, including an after school-middle school program that targets students who don't get regular physical activity and have funded more physically active field trips.

The high school has also received exercise equipment through a SHIP grant.

Although the program is at the mercy of state funding, which is still in limbo, representatives say they hope to impress a need for change even if they are cut from the state budget.

"Like Roosevelt Elementary... they are now holding morning recess twice a week, and that's something that doesn't cost a dime," Skow said.

The wellness committee is also meeting with food services to firm up plans for a school menu change, which would provide students with twice the amount of fruits and vegetables and reduce caloric intake.

There was also brief discussion on ensuring that busing schedules and food service operation jive with the breakfast option at the schools.

Detroit Lakes teachers for grades K-2 are also busy trying to raise $20,000 to buy healthy snacks for their students.

A sticking point for the board was concession stands, with concerns that trying to make those healthy could be detrimental to fundraising.

"We need to decide, is this important enough for us to take it off the paper and make it part of our policy and culture?" said Board Vice Chair Dr. Tom Seaworth, "and I really think we need to do it -- every single study I can find shows children who are more fit do better academically... it's a very inexpensive way to improve test scores and academic performance."

The second reading for the provisions comes in July, with approval going before the board in August.