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Fruit, Fiber, and Recommendations for Healthier Schoolkids

From guest blogger Nirvi Shah:

When the Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America's Health presented a set of recommendations to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday, they may not have expected to hear a tale about dancing vegetables.

The groups are pushing for changes, noting the connection between student achievement and students who are healthy, well-fed, well-rested, and attend schools without fear of being bullied or injured.

Sebelius recounted the Obama administration's efforts to improving children's health, mentioning expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act, which also expanded health insurance coverage for children, including those with preexisting medical conditions and provided grant money to build and expand school-based health centers.

She said her agency will issue $75 million in grants for the expansion and construction of school based health centers in addition to money that has already been awarded.

Duncan—who supports the groups' efforts in general—told a story about visiting his daughter's elementary school and watching a musical production that—surprise—was about eating healthfully. (His daughter was what he was pretty sure was a plum.)

One of the messages was about getting five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

"There were 100 kids dressed up as bananas and artichokes," Duncan said. "There was a big song about fiber."

His point: There are lots of ways to get the message across to students about healthful habits.

Earlier Wednesday (National School Nurse Day, coincidentally), Duncan popped into Luke Moore High School in D.C., a School Improvement Grant recipient that serves more than 300 students who have dropped out or who have had difficulties in traditional school settings. The majority of the students are very poor.

While the school still has a ways to go before it is turned around, Duncan said part of the work at Luke Moore is the school's health educator.

It's not clear if Duncan and Sebelius will adopt all the recommendations. One involves appointing a deputy assistant secretary to the office of safe and healthy students, for example. Healthy Schools' Rochelle Davis said it's unrealistic to expect such an appointment right now, months before the presidential election. But she is hopeful.

"We would like it to be a first hire in a new administration," she said.

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