For the third year in a row, Alabama leads the nation in the number of schools that are designated as Gold Award of Distinction winners by the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC).
The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service recently announced that 75 Alabama elementary and secondary schools are now on the prestigious list of schools receiving top HUSSC honors for creating healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity.
HUSSC is a voluntary certification initiative established in 2004 to recognize schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that have worked to become more compliant with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) recommendations for school meals and foods in schools.
To date, HUSSC awards have been given to schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia. As of April 16, 2013, there are 6,020 schools certified, with 179 Alabama public schools earning HealthierUs School designation since the start of the program, including all schools in the Mobile County School System.
June Barrett, coordinator of Child Nutrition for the Alabama State Department of Education, said having such a high number of HealthierUS School Challenge award winners in Alabama is quite impressive.
"We are competing quite nicely to be such a small state. Our child nutrition directors have gone the extra mile to promote the standards the USDA has established," Barrett said. "It is often difficult to change eating patterns, but our employees have stepped up to the challenge. They know that by promoting healthier lifestyles, our children will live longer."
In February 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama introduced Let's Move!, incorporating the HealthierUS School Challenge into her campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids. At that time, monetary incentive awards became available for each HUSSC award level.
In addition to a plaque and HealthierUS School banner, HUSSC schools receive:
The USDA Food and Nutrition Service recognizes HealthierUS School Challenge schools as those that have made changes to improve the quality of the foods served, provide students with nutrition education, and provide students with physical education and opportunities for physical activity. Schools receiving a HUSSC award commit to meeting the criteria throughout their four-year certification period.
Participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge has helped advance efforts to change children's eating habits and promote healthier lifestyles even more, Barrett said.
"Our child nutrition directors have made a concerted effort to educate children and their parents that snacks don't have to come from foods that are high in sugar, fat and artificial additives," Barrett said, noting that school lunch options include a wide selection of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. "It takes a community approach to ensure that we teach children to eat healthier."
The HealthierUS School Challenge is open to all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.
Alabama schools that recently earned the Gold Award of Distinction designation are:
Anniston City School System
Calhoun County School System
Geneva County School System
Mobile County School System
Sylacauga City Schools
Talladega County Schools
Talladega City School System
To see the complete list of Alabama HealthierUS School Challenge Award Winners, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/healthierus/Alabama.html.
To learn more about Alabama's efforts to improve child nutrition, please contact the Child Nutrition Section of ALSDE at 334-242-1988.