Combating Childhood Obesity in Butte County

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First graders at salad bar at Sierra Avenue Elementary School in Oroville. (Photo: Rachelle Parker)

First graders at salad bar at Sierra Avenue Elementary School in Oroville. (Photo: Rachelle Parker)

In 2005 the rate of obesity for children in middle school in Butte County was 34.41 percent. Today, the rate has risen 0.9 percent according to a report from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and UCLA. Cindy Wolff, Director of the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP) at Chico State University, would like to see that rate go down.

Wolff pioneered the Sierra Cascade Nutrition and Activity Consortium (SCNAC) in 2001. Its purpose is to promote healthy eating and activity to low-income residents in the 11 county Sierra Cascade region. Just one of the programs within SCNAC is "Harvest of the Month"  which provides tastings of fruits and vegetables to K-12 students during school hours. 

At Sierra Avenue Elementary School in Oroville, Principal Ed Gregorio explains how they came to have a salad bar for their school lunch program. "For a couple of years, we have partnered with UC Cooperative Extension and the Sierra Cascade Nutrition and Activity Consortium, a CNAP program for Harvest of the Month and other healthy eating-related activities, which allows students to learn about healthy eating habits."

This is also the school district’s second year of "Breakfast in the Classroom," a federally funded program which allows students to have a nutrient-rich breakfast each morning.  In addition to these funded programs, the Thermalito Unified School District's food services department provides a salad bar for the students every day during lunch.  Gregorio went on to say that some of their teachers also utilize the SPARK physical education program, which is a skills-based PE program that he feels is making a positive impact on the students’ health.

Karen Williams, Child Nutrition Program Coordinator at the Thermalito School District, told me about federal legislation that helped their schools to provide a different menu for school lunches.

"With the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law, our district, along with others nationwide, is making positive changes in our child nutrition programs. Some of the changes include offering a variety of more fruits and vegetables, increasing whole grains, reducing fat content, reducing sodium levels, providing only 1% or non-fat milk, and making free drinking water available during school meals."

While some programs are focused on nutrition, there is also a push to increase awareness of exactly when a child is considered obese. Dr. Mark Lundberg, Health Officer for Butte County, would like to see doctors give parents a body mass index (BMI) report when children are treated. He feels this would help parents to realize when they need to step in and make changes in order to keep their child healthy. "It is a challenge in our culture to try to address this very emotional and very difficult topic."

Michelle Buran of CNAP agrees with Dr. Lundberg. "Pediatricians should be collecting this information on all children so prevention can happen at an early age. Oftentimes a parent wouldn’t consider their child overweight. The BMI assessment component will help assess children and identify children that are considered overweight.

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About Rachelle Parker

Rachelle Parker was born in Oakland, California and raised in the Bay Area. Her grandmother moved to Oroville in 1960, resulting in Rachelle spending many summers and holidays in the area. Rachelle moved to Oroville in 2003. A graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Sociology, Rachelle is a winner of the Judith Stronach Prize for prose, and contributed a story to The New City magazine in 1999 under the tutelage of Clay Felker. Rachelle has worked off and on as both a print and broadcast journalist since 1980, and is happy to bring her love of writing and her concern for her community to the task of being a citizen correspondent for KQED’s Health Dialogues.

Comments (1)

  1. Karen Downey says:

    Sometimes I think parents stick their heads in the sand because they too are overweight and it is easier for them to buy the easy to prepare or just “pop in the microwave” dinners or make a trip through the drive thru. With both parents working, I think some look for the easiest way to get things done and don’t realize until it is too late what a mistake and disservice they are doing to their children. I think the effort on the part of the school system is a good start in the right direction. If it works for one school it will work for others too. :-)