Kentucky Schools Fight Obesity

By Karyn Loughrin, former CEDIK GIS Associate, and Karen Fawcett

Many schools are taking a stand against childhood obesity through different avenues such as implementing nationwide, state or local policies to provide healthier food and promote physical activity for students.The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires schools to raise their nutrition standards during school hours. The meal standards were developed to not only offer healthy meal options, but to allow schools the flexibility to prepare meals that are familiar to kids from the many culturally diverse backgrounds across the nation. As of September 2015, 95% of schools in the US were serving meals that met these standards (USDA/c). In Kentucky, this potentially impacts the 536,182 children participating in the National School Lunch Program and the 307,332 enrolled in the School Breakfast Program as of October 2015 (USDA/a). For low-income children, this program can be a significant portion of their diet during the school week. The map below shows the percent of children  who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals at this county level.

FreeandReducedMealsSchools are also increasing or maintaining physical activities in school to combat an increase in physical inactivity between 2011-2015 shown in the next map below. Kentucky currently has physical education and activity requirements during school hours. Kentucky also participates in shared use agreements allowing students access to school property after hours for recreation and physical activity. Shared use agreements are common in today’s environment and promoted nationally, though some schools are not utilizing this practice due to liability, security and maintenance concerns (Safe Routes to School).PhysicalInactivitySchools are also working on incorporating healthier, locally grown food through the Farm-to-School program. Approximately 702 individual schools in 60 Kentucky districts participated in the Farm-to-School program in the 2011-2012 school year, impacting over 350,000 children in Kentucky. Over $1.6 million school food dollars was invested in Kentucky communities during that time, and 61% of schools say they will buy more local food in the future. Additionally, Kentucky schools planted 35 edible schoolyard gardens providing fresh food as well as an educational opportunity (USDA/b). Encouraging nutritious eating—including adherence to the new US dietary guidelines release last month—can help prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In this way, the schoolyard garden program helped children eat healthier, increased their food literacy and turned their cafeteria into a classroom.FarmtoSchool
There are numerous programs available to encourage healthy children in Kentucky, only a few of which have been highlighted here. Some programs focus on improving food intake with nutritious and local foods while others attempt to encourage physical activity during and outside school hours. By taking a stand against childhood obesity and utilizing these programs, we are working to raise healthier children across Kentucky.


Safe Routes to School: National Partnership. “Share Use of School and Community Facilities”.  http://saferoutespartnership.org/state/bestpractices/shareduse (accessed January 12, 2016).

USDA/a. Food and Nutrition Service. “Child Nutrition Tables”. http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/child-nutrition-tables (accessed January 12, 2016).

USDA/b. Food and Nutrition Service. “The Farm-to-School Census: Kentucky”. http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/census#/state/ky (accessed January 12, 2016).

USDA/c. Office of Communications. “Fact Sheet: School Serving, Kids Eating Healthier School Meals Thanks to Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act”. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2015/09/0242.xml (accessed January 12, 2016).


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