Public Health Community Advisory – In keeping with its mission to promote optimal health and well-being, UNMC’s College of Public Health (COPH) is a partner in the Douglas County Health Department’s (DCHD’s) Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program. Increasing access to fruits and vegetables is a core concept of the Douglas County CPPW program. A 2008 study found that few children actually eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day. To ensure that children have improved access to fruits and vegetables, the DCHD CPPW has supported the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition (Center for Nutrition) in its work with area schools to create farm to school activities. The Center for Nutrition has been quite successful in engaging several school districts in this effort while under the leadership of Dr. Amy Yaroch, professor in the COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.
The Nutrition Services for Omaha Public Schools (OPS), the largest school system in Douglas County, has made a public commitment to use locally produced foods (including fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, cheese, whole wheat tortillas, and bread) whenever it is economically and logistically feasible. This policy was facilitated by a CPPW funded collaboration between OPS and the Center for Nutrition. In addition to providing access to local foods, OPS is successfully reducing the salt and sugar content of school meals by working directly with local bakery and dairy resources to create specially formulated foods for the district. Once these foods are developed, they are then made available to other school districts in the area, thereby raising the quality and nutritional value of school meals throughout Douglas County. OPS feeds nearly 49,000 students each day during the school year. By working with the Center for Nutrition, successfully reducing sugar and salt in school menu items, and proactively embracing the farm to school movement, OPS is able to help to define process, policy, and resources for school districts throughout the region.
Millard Public Schools has attempted to improve its selection of fruits and vegetables through its salad bar and will be sponsoring a farmer’s market this spring. These efforts will help schools to offer children more produce. When children are given frequent opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables, it is expected that they will begin to change their behaviors to include more fruits and vegetables in their daily diets.
This article was written by Mary Balluff, division chief for Community Health and Nutrition with the Douglas County Health Department, and adjunct instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.