JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri will be getting federal funds to help reduce the number of overweight children in the state.
According to 2001 information gathered by the state’s Health Department, 21.5 percent of children in the state are overweight, which was a 2 percent increase from the previous year. These figures are significantly above the national average of 13 percent.
Missouri’s Health Department will receive $200,000 as part of a nationwide grant from Team Nutrition. The grant will be used for schools and day cares to promote healthy eating habits among children.
The department will give $50,000 in mini-grants to public and private schools and day cares. It is currently drafting an application for schools to request a mini-grant, which should be available this spring.
Rita Arni, the child nutrition program manager for the state Health Department, said the grant opportunities may provide the impetus needed to raise school’s awareness.
“If you’re looking at the total school budget, it’s probably a very small amount,” Arni said, “But I think that the grant … could be a great motivator for getting new programs started.”
Until now, there are only five schools in Columbia that have used Team Nutrition materials, which will be part of the criteria for receiving the grant. These schools are Benton, Cedar Ridge, Mill Creek and Shepard elementaries and the Boone County Juvenile Justice Center. Pat Brooks, food service director for Columbia public schools, said that the district has been training healthy habits through the meals served in the cafeteria for close to 25 years.
“We do try to make the cafeteria that learning laboratory,” she said. The Columbia public school program is currently self-supported, Brooks said. The district’s food service costs account for only 3 percent of yearly school funds.
Brooks said she hoped to receive a mini-grant, but was already pleased with Columbia’s food programs. She said the Columbia schools food services garnered a USDA award for “Best Practices” in July 2002 for its food education program.
The other funds from the grant will be used in several ways. Some will support statewide training of school food service professionals through video-conference and direct instruction, which are already going on. Others will enable new projects such as expanding statewide electronic networks for school nurses and food service professionals and collecting data on the current policies Missouri school districts have for nutrition education.
About half of the funds will be used for mandatory fringe benefits for employees working in the various programs. Missouri mandates fringe benefits from grants, including health insurance and annual leave.