To combat this growing epidemic, state legislatures have mandated that every school district establish a wellness policy that encourages healthy choices both inside and outside the classroom.
A committee composed of 13 parents, teachers, food service directors and administrators developed Vermillion's wellness policy, which was implemented this fall.
The initiative has a three-fold purpose, which is to give students access to nutritious food, provide opportunities for physical activity and equip students with accurate information related to these topics. The policy was developed from a template provided by the state. The committee members used the template as a guideline for developing Vermillion's local policy.
Committee chairperson Chris Girard, a member of the Vermillion School Board, said regardless of whether or not the mandate had been issued, wellness in schools was something that needed to be inspected.
"Obesity is rapidly increasing in young children and adults," Girard said, "and they need to learn early on the importance of healthy habits and exercise. It is a responsibility of the school to encourage wellness."
School nurse Karol Broderson said many aspects of the policy have already been in place for some time, but thepolicy ensures stricter compliance and a few significant additions.
One important adjustment to school policy is the use of vending and pop machines.
The new wellness policy states that school vending machines will not be available to elementary schools, and have limited availability for the middle and high school students. Middle school students will only be able to use vending machines at the end of the school day and for high school students vending machines will be off one hour before and after the lunch hour to promote more nutritious meals.
Beyond the limited use of the machines, students will soon be unable to purchase high-calorie soda during the school day, thanks to an initiative by the William J. Clinton Foundation. By 2008, most public schools will only be able to sell diet soda, juice and low-fat milk.
Superintendent Mark Froke said over the past couple of years the school has increased the amount of water and juice offered, but this new initiative will change their product offerings dramatically. Froke said hopefully starting next year the products sold in the vending machines will also be altered.
"Our vending machines are going to be refrigerated and we are going to sell sandwiches and healthy snacks," Froke said. "We'll still have a limited offering of candy bars, but this will be a major change."
Girard said one reason the committee decided to still offer a limited amount of junk food was to promote the idea that wellness is a choice. Girard said the kids needed to learn to be responsible for their own wellness and to choose to live healthy lives.
In addition to nutrition education, the policy also mandates extensive physical education. Physical education classes are now required to spend at least half of class time participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity, and schools are to regularly incorporate physical activity into other subject areas.
Broderson said the new policy is designed to be all-encompassing and promote healthy attitudes across the curriculum.
"You need to have healthy kids for them to learn and be successful in the classroom," Broderson said. "To be successful in school and in life, their health must be their number one priority."