JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri will be getting federal funds to help reduce the number of overweight kids 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 two percent increase from the previous year. These figures are significantly above the national average, which is 13 percent.
Team Nutrition, a division for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, estimated that only one percent of American children have eating patterns consistent with dietary recommendations.
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. The department 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 DHSS, 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.
Pat Brooks, food service director for Columbia, said that the school district has been training healthy habits through a nutrition education plan for close to 25 years. "We do try to make the cafeteria that learning laboratory." The program is currently self-supported. Altogether, the school district's food service costs accounts for three 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 videoconference and direct instruction, which are already going on. Parts of the grant 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 district 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 benefits such as health insurance and annual leave.