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Howard County Schools Weigh Nutrition Information

Maryland public schools may be required to post calorie content on menus. Howard County already makes this information available, considers other options.

Howard County Schools Weigh Nutrition Information


By Lizzy McClellan, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

In Howard County, nutrition information is posted in the school cafeteria for each meal offered, including calories, protein, vitamins and minerals.

“I’ve got information about nutrition all over the dining room,” said Mary Klatko, director of food and nutrition services for Howard County.

Information about individual food and drink items is posted online for those who want more specific counts, said Klatko, who is also federal legislative chair of the Maryland School Nutrition Association.

More Maryland students may get the opportunity to see the numbers behind nutrition, if legislation passes requiring all public schools to post on their menus the calorie content of food items served.

Regulations have already passed in some counties, such as Montgomery, requiring this information. Last year, chain restaurants across the United States faced a similar federal mandate for their menus.

"The time is probably right to do it here" at the state level, said Del. Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's, the bill's sponsor. "Obesity is a serious problem among our children."

In Maryland, 28.8 percent of children are overweight or obese, according to the Childhood Obesity Action Network's 2009 State Obesity Profile, giving the state the 15th lowest obesity rate in the nation.

Klatko said she would rather address the issue by taking nutritionists into the classrooms to explain healthy eating.

Since federal guidelines already exist for calorie counts, the proposed legislation would be "overkill," said Klatko.

Schools are required to provide 550-650 calories for elementary, 600-700 calories for middle and 750-850 calories for high school students at lunch. These numbers represent one-third of the average daily energy requirement for children of these ages.

The bill should be rewritten, said Klatko, to require schools to post the calorie count per meal instead of for each individual item.

At in Laurel, nutrition information is posted to a bulletin board for students to peruse as they stand in line for lunch.

"Some students stop to look at them, but not a majority of them," said Klatko.

Victoria Justus, 12, said she enjoys the healthy meals her school provides, but does not care to check on the food's calorie content.

Samuel Gibson, 12, agreed that calories are less useful in making healthy choices.

Last week the Howard County Food and Nutrition Service Advisory Committee advised the school board to launch a marketing campaign to promote healthy eating choices.

The committee noted that in Fairfax County, VA, where it conducted a site visit to what it said was an "award-winning department," the food service program has its own logo and "multiple monthly publications," including a parent newsletter. In sum, the committee made six suggestions to the school board, from hiring a dietitian to shifting lunch periods, to enhance the food service program in Howard County public schools.

What do you think is the best way to promote healthy eating? Tell us in the comments.

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