FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Thousands of students in the Fort Worth Independent School District on Wednesday were given a special treat at lunch to encourage healthy eating habits. They put away the leftover Halloween candy and picked up apples instead.
The yummy treat is an easy way to raise awareness about the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption. Research shows that kids need more. The American Heart Association states that one in three U.S. kids is overweight. And, of those children, 60 percent are at risk for cardiovascular disease.
The hope is that this apple campaign can have an impact on childhood obesity rates.
“It’s good because, if you eat veggies and fruits for breakfast, you might get enough energy for the day for class and not be all drowsy and stuff,” said fifth-grader Valeria Ledesma.
Fort Worth is working to make changes, starting with the youngest schoolchildren. FitWorth is the city’s health and well-being initiative. Over the last four years, the program has successfully lowered the percent of students with an unhealthy body mass by five percent.
“The statistics were that Fort Worth ISD had about 50 percent unhealthy body mass index,” explained FitWorth spokesperson Leslie Casey. “We’ve been able to move the needle with simple steps, one thing you can do to change behavior.”
And, if kids can get hooked on fruits and veggies, perhaps their parents will buy into these healthy eating habits too. “We don’t want to limit it to just one day a year,” added Kate Lino with the American Heart Association. “Although we are focusing it on kids today, we want grown-ups to take part in that.”
“If you start with the kids eating healthy, then that will impact the parents,” continued Howard Robinson, principal at Carter Park Elementary School. “In this generation, we’re surrounded by fast food places and corner market stores that have more of the sodas and the unhealthy snacks that are easy to buy, quick to buy and they really are cheaper.”
Carter Park Elementary School was honored by Mayor Betsy Price with a $1,000 check last year for their efforts to encourage healthier eating. School officials make it a goal to talk frequently about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and the benefits of drinking water.
“I try to give them as much fruits and vegetables at home,” said mom America Ledesma. “Just last night, I made them chicken with broccoli, and they love it.”
FitWorth started working with schools four years ago, but there is still more work to be done. Three-fourths of Fort Worth ISD families do not get three servings of fruit and vegetables each day. While one apple for each of the 48,000 students on one day may not seem earth-shattering, officials are hoping that it is the first bite toward better nutrition.
“It’s the educators who are changing the culture,” added Casey. “Key efforts through regular P.E. and health classes, the local wellness coordinators, district-wide wellness events, recess training, wellness fairs, principal trainings, etc. have had the real impact on reducing body mass index at the district level. FitWorth simply highlights the great work achieved by the teachers on the ground!”