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Charlottesville Students Make "CHOICE"

By: Matt Holmes Email
By: Matt Holmes Email

Tuesday April 29, 2008

Once kids go off to college or move out into the real world, they have to decide for themselves what kind of food to eat. The CHOICE program being piloted at Charlottesville's Walker Upper Elementary is designed to teach kids which foods are good, which foods are bad and then let them make their own decisions at an early age.

For months, CHOICE (Creating Healthy Opportunities and Initiatives in the Cafeteria for Everyone) has left it up to Walker Upper students just how healthy they want to eat.

"We can't tell them what to eat," explains Charlottesville Nutrition Services Coordinator Alicia Cost. "You can't lead a horse to water and make them drink...you just can't do that."

"They really are at the age where a commercial could make an impression on them, so they want to drink more soda or they want to eat more candy bars," says Walker Upper Prinicipal Terri Perkins. "This is, I think, a crucial time for children to make good nutritional choices."

According to the Childhood Obesity Task Force, 46 percent of kids in Charlottesville are either overweight or obese. That's led city schools to start thinking outside the box when it comes to students' health.

At Walker Upper, where they deal with fifth and sixth graders, they've put in the CHOICE program.

It's basically set up like a stop light:

- Red Foods like chicken nuggets and french fries should stop kids and make them think before eating;
- Yellow Foods like meat lasagna and certain sandwiches should prompt kids to proceed with caution;
- Green Foods, the fruits, veggies and low-fat milks, will help them to balance out their meals.

"The data is showing that they are making better choices," Cost says.

The data she references shows 37 percent of kids at Walker Upper feel they're now making different decisions about food. There was also an 11 percent increase in the number of green side items consumed during the two-week pilot period.

Principal Perkins says she's seeing success, not just in statistics, but in everyday interaction.

"I talk to students and say, when I'm doing lunch duty "what did you choose today?" And they are more aware and saying "well, I chose this red, but I chose this green selection." It's a nice simple system. Kids can understand it."

The city's now working with new software to train cafeteria managers on the CHOICE program. They could expand the pilot program to other schools as soon as this fall.

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