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While dietary options have improved, most students need additional exercise

 A new report issued by Washington County Public Schools shows elementary and middle school students engage in just 50 minutes of physical education each week throughout the academic year. High schoolers enrolled in physical education receive less than 21 minutes of activity per week throughout the same period.    

While elementary students and some middle schoolers receive additional recess time, none of the activity alone is enough to meet guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

 Those guidelines recommend at least an hour of physical activity each day for those between ages 6 to 17. 

Without additional out-of-school exercise, most students jeopardize their health and are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression and other illnesses. 

The findings were outlined as part of the district’s 2012-2013 Nutrition and Physical Activity report which gauged wellness habits of the student body. 

District officials summarized a plan through 2014 to improve health and wellness at each of the county schools. It includes an emphasis on healthier eating habits and increased activity.

Beginning as early as this year, nutritional information will be posted on school menus. Breaded food items — including chicken nuggets, corn dogs and casserole toppings — will now be made with whole grain, per USDA guidelines.

Many healthier whole-grain options have already been implemented, said Regina Hood, the district’s food service director.

While she receives a modest amount of complaints from students and parents each year, Hood says most have adapted to new dietary standards. 

Existing food programs in the district meet or exceed established USDA guidelines, she said. 

The financial health of the district’s food program appears equally well, the report shows. 

Participation in the district’s lunch program is adequate, Superintendent Regina Cochran said, while breakfast participation is higher than many other districts in the state. 

Officials were able to use profits from the district’s summer feeding program to replace aging ovens at facilities across the district, Cochran said.  

Participation in after-school snack programs in the district has even grown among the student body, officials say. 

“We’ve even tried to extend that program to our basketball teams” which practice and play after school hours, Cochran said. 

The district’s plan through 2014 calls for site-based decision-making councils to implement wellness policies at each county school and urges educators to increase physical activity opportunities in after-school programs and throughout the day, as much as possible.

“We’ve encouraged principals to open the gym for physical activity” during student free time hours, Cochran said. 

Sedentary practices must be sidelined, officials say. 

One highlight in the report shows that district gyms are being regularly opened to the community when school is not in operation. These practices  encourage wellness for all citizens in Washington County.