Wellness policy promotes healthier meals for Bath students

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BATH — Students will now have healthier choices in the food they receive from their schools, thanks to a new wellness policy passed by the Regional School Unit 1 Board of Directors Monday.

In advocating such an initiative for the unit, Superintendent William Shuttleworth said, “it’s not just me. It’s a whole team of local citizens, physicians, parents and teachers who recognize that we need to comply with federal laws … that say that we have to provide a higher level of nutrition in our meals at school.”

Shuttleworth said the fat and sugar in foods the schools serve must be decreased, and that RSU 1 students must be provided a better educational plan to help them to make healthier dietary choices.

“This generation is scheduled to live seven years less than the previous generation,” said Shuttleworth. “It’s the first time in planet Earth that a generation is expected to live less than their parents. And with all that we know about medical science to be able to extend life, it is ironic that we’re looking at prolific levels of obesity, childhood diabetes and all of the other issues that go with chronic overweight.”

The superintendent said obesity-related treatment takes one out of every four health dollars today, and that one out of three American children starts school overweight, while 59 percent of all Americans are overweight.

“So it is a huge issue,” Shuttleworth said. “A lot of people are hesitant to address it because they feel there’s a value judgment on that, (that) you’re going to marginalize a group of children.”

Still, the wellness policy doesn’t call for taking snacks that students have brought from home. Nor does it regulate community events on school property.

“If Phippsburg has a snowmobile dinner tonight, I’m not down there taking their apple pie away,” he said. “But when we serve food, we’re going to provide quality food. We have put salad bars in every one of our schools for the first time, we have far, far more local produce that’s organically raised … using all the farms around here, we have much more healthy dessert options that children are exposed to.”

RSU 1 is also involved with 5-2-1-0, a health campaign which is part of the national Let’s Go! program. The initiative encourages a healthy daily regimen for children: five servings of fruits and vegetables; no more than two hours in front of a TV or computer screen; one hour of sustained physical activity; and zero sugar drinks.

“We have seen a major shift,” he explained, adding that by next year RSU 1 will have a full K-12 health curriculum in place.

The wellness policy represents part of a cultural shift. Shuttleworth referred to dialogues years ago about the importance of wearing seat belts, and how today many people wouldn’t think of traveling in their cars without putting them on. He spoke of the original resistance to banning smoking from restaurants, which he said led not to the closure of such establishments but to greater business and to heightened awareness of the issues surrounding tobacco consumption.

“Texting on a phone is another one that’s likely to come,” Shuttleworth said. “It’s killing people right and left everyday. People say ‘well, I have a right to type as I drive.’ But that will be a federal law that will save lives.”

This wellness policy, like the others he mentioned, is designed for the greater good, as opposed to being “big brother” or Draconian, Shuttleworth explained.

“We’re not going to take your hot dog away from you when you go to a football game tonight,” he said. However, “if you didn’t want that hot dog, we have another option for you.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.