What happens when a school district’s wellness policy doesn’t cover student sports games or other after-school events? In one district in San Antonio, a Latino-majority city with approximately 63% of the residents being of Latino or Hispanic origin, a school board president drove a policy change to implement healthier menu options at concession stands during school-sanctioned after-school events.
With the support of various school officials, parents, and students, the new menu extends the district’s already-strong wellness policy to after-school hours and allows healthier items for students and parents.
Awareness: In San Antonio, Texas, the North East Independent School District (NEISD), which has a population of about 67,000 students, of which 55 percent are Hispanic, had already implemented a wellness policy that set nutritional standards and rules for vending machines, school meals, food in the classroom, and fundraisers.
“We’re dedicated to health and wellness here in the Northeast school district,” said NEISD Superintendent Dr. Brian Gottardy in a video.
However the issue of childhood obesity was still overwhelming within the school district.
“Too many students are leading sedentary lifestyles with dietary eating habits that do not offset this lifestyle nor fuel their body with good nutritional items that increase their learning capabilities,” said Rachel Naylor, the district’s director of physical education, health, and athletics.
Officials remained on the lookout for additional ways to improve student health.
Learn: Both Naylor and NEISD School Board President Susan Galindo were given the opportunity to go to the Leadership for Healthy Communities Conference in Washington D.C., which greatly educated them about the issue of childhood obesity in schools across the nation. Leadership for Healthy Communities is a national program that supports local and government leaders in reducing childhood obesity.
As Galindo and Naylor travelled home from the conference they talked about their own district’s efforts to promote healthy eating and living to students.
As they talked further, Galindo thought of a new target for change: concession stands at sporting events were still selling high-fat, high-calorie foods and beverages to students, parents and community members.
Galindo did some research online to see if any other schools were successfully changing their concession stand menus to offer healthier choices, but could find none on which to base a change at NEISD. This fueled her idea to create a healthier environment at sporting events because it could have an impact on the health of both her schools and the schools that visited NEISD for games, as well as serving as a model to schools wishing to implement healthy options in concessions.
Galindo also wanted to learn a little bit more about NEISD’s obesity issue. She examined statistics about the weight statuses of district students. Obesity rates were high, as she expected, but one school in particular stood out. Students at Lee High School, a majority-Latino and economically disadvantaged campus, had an obesity rate greater than 30 percent. Interestingly, a magnet high school in the same building as Lee High School, but with students from higher-income areas, had an obesity rate less than 20 percent. “It’s sad that in the same building that you have this disparity just because of where kids come from,” Galindo said. Seeing these statistics, and learning about healthy lifestyles from her time on the Healthy Communities Council, led her to believe that NEISD still had room for improvement to encourage healthy eating.
Frame Issue: Galindo made it her goal to be bringing healthy choices to sporting event concession stands in the district, which she believed would give students and parents the never-before-available option of healthy food and drinks at games while strengthening the district’s message of health.
“By offering healthy choices at after school events, we are sending a consistent message that being healthy and eating healthy is a full time commitment. We must be consistent in both word and deed to combat the millions of dollars in advertising from companies that assault the minds and hearts of our youngest citizens when it comes to what is good to eat,” Galindo said.
Galindo wanted to add healthier items to menus at the concession stands where the district’s sporting events occur, which includes multiple outdoor and indoor sporting arenas.
“Mrs. Galindo felt that concession stands at district events was a great way to send a strong message—we want to support your effort to make healthier choices by making them more readily available,” Naylor said.
Galindo believed that, by making healthier options more accessible and available to students, parents, and community members, NEISD could make real strides in reducing childhood obesity and teach students to make healthy food choices outside of the classroom and lunchroom.
Education: In her effort to get a policy change that would add healthier menu items to concession stands, Galindo sought support from the superintendent (Brian Gottardy) and director of physical education, health and athletics (Rachel Naylor). The trio met and discussed district needs, concluding together that, although they had a strong wellness policy that promoted healthy living during school hours, sending a consistent message to students and parents meant they needed to extend their policies to include extracurricular like sports. Naylor became key in developing a healthier menu, called Right Bites, by helping Galindo develop timelines, provide existing policy, connecting stakeholders, and promoting the project to district officials.
Mobilization: As the key stakeholders began planning the steps needed to implement a policy that would bring healthy items to district concession stands, they recruited Sharon Glosson, NEISD executive director of school nutrition, to assist them with creating the healthier menu.
Glosson provided them with resources including the standards that would be used to choose the items, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s Healthy Concession & Snack Recommendations. Glosson became an important part of the planning team and worked with other district officials to begin to choose the items that would eventually be part of the menu.
Debate: They had to create a menu that would fit the available equipment in concession stands and increase the focus on healthy items at sporting events. Each concession stand has limited pantry storage and limited refrigerator or freezer storage space. That meant the healthier items needed to have as long a shelf life as possible, as to not waste money or space in the concession stands and to be able to stay safe to eat in either of the spaces. Choosing foods that would meet these requirements and would meet the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s Healthy Concession & Snack Recommendations would be a challenge. However, Galindo and the other key players sought to overcome any obstacles.
“It sends a real clear message that we are serious about healthy options and choices, and being able to make them available 24/7. Not just this is how we eat at school, but instead this is a lifestyle and this is how we eat,” Galindo said.
Activation: To stay within the limits of the concession stand’s abilities, Tom Rau, NEISD booster club manager, got involved. Rau manages the food purchases, menu, and working schedule of the seven high school parent-run booster clubs, who profit from and run the concession stands. Rau and Glosson began planning the menu to ensure that the new menu items met the capacity of the concession stand and the Healthy Concession & Snack Recommendations. Rau purchases food for the concession stands from a wholesale club, buying each item in bulk. In the planning weeks leading up to the implementation of the Right Bites healthier concession stands menu, Rau took Glosson to a wholesale club to choose items that could meet the standards. Rau was optimistic about the success of the menu because of what it would offer to people.
“If you’re there and hungry, and you are conscious about what you’re eating, it is nice to have a healthy offering; rather than only the high-fat foods and junk foods that are usually in concession stands,” Rau said. He began buying these approved items one at a time, offering them during sporting events, and noting which items did or did not sell.
Naylor lauded the process. “Tom Rau took this project beyond what Mrs. Galindo and I ever expected by utilizing Sharon to find a large variety of items to offer patrons. Without their support, this project would still be trying to get off the ground,” she said.
Frame Policy: Glosson and Rau picked the final menu items based on popularity, if the items met the Concession & Snack Recommendations, and if the concession stand could easily keep and prepare them.
Although the key players wanted to promote health and encourage people to make healthy choices, they do not want to alienate any customers. As such, the Right Bites menu became an addition to the existing menu items—rather than replacing the existing items.
“I hope that parents and students will want to make healthy food choices in and out of school. If children choose healthy options in all events they attend as students, healthy habits will be formed during a critical learning time in their lives that will hopefully continue on through adulthood, which I believe will turn the tide in the Latino Obesity epidemic in our nation,” Galindo said.
The key players hope that by giving people a new menu of healthy items, alongside the familiar menu of typical concession stand food, people will learn to make healthy choices on their own (current, familiar concession stand items remain available at concession stands to ensure that the Band Booster Club’s profits do not suffer if the items do not sell as well as hoped).
Change: The new finalized menu, now supported by the school, key players, and concession workers, included these items: Vitamin Water Zero, Dasani Water, Smart Water, string cheese, baked chips, Special K Fruit Filled Snack Bars, Fiber One Brownies, Nature Valley Honey & Oat Granola Bar, Austin’s Peanut Butter Crackers, a homemade frozen fruit cup, light yogurt, and a grilled chicken wrap in a whole wheat tortilla.
The new menu was formally approved for use by the school board and superintendent first at the concession stand in the Littleton Gym, where indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball are played.
They would continue adding the new menu to more concession stands in spring 2013 at outdoor arenas for softball and baseball, and fall 2013 during football and other sport seasons, to gradually introduce the students and community to the new menu. The district would now have healthy food options to encourage healthier eating, not only in the school building, but at sporting events as well.
Implementation: The new healthy items became available at the Littleton Gym concession stand in January 2013, which was the first stand to feature the new menu. Littleton Gym is located in Blossom Athletic Center, which has several types of sporting facilities and is the location of many different NEISD sporting events.
The Right Bites Menu was easily identifiable, because it was put up as a separate hang-down menu and a logo was created to mark the healthier items. Right Bites items will be sold at all three concession locations during sporting events. The regular, familiar menu items will continue to be available for purchase so that customers can begin making healthy choices for themselves. The key players feel this menu offers a variety of menu items for students and parents to be happy with. The chicken wrap was a particularly important menu item because it offers an option to parents who come straight from work to have a meal for themselves and their families at sporting events.
As more sports began their seasons in spring of 2013, more Right Bites menu items became available at concession stands in the district. In the fall of 2013, during prime football, volleyball, soccer, and sports season, there will be 11 concession stands with the new healthy menu available. Item options will vary by the size and ability of each location, but all will give customers many healthy options.
Equity: Keeping regular menu items along with the new Right Bites menu helps ensure this policy would not be rejected by students, parents, and customers, so as not to hurt the profit of the booster clubs. Secondly, to ensure success, they mirrored the regular menu items in their new choices. They now had chips and baked chips, desserts and Fiber One brownies, sugary sodas and flavored Vitamin Water Zero, and a sausage wrap along with grilled chicken wrap. Lastly, to ensure people knew about the Right Bites Menu, Mayor Julian Castro came to one of the concession stands and filmed promotional videos. These videos would be featured in news articles and online, and school/team specific promos would be shown at football games during the autumn football season to highlight the menu to students and parents attending the games.
“Right now it is too early to tell but to have the support of our Mayor, Metro Health, and our community tells me that Right Bites will have a positive impact on our city,” Galindo said.
Sustainability: As the policy is new there is no official report yet on how the items are selling, but verbal reviews from parents and other customers are great, Galindo said.
So far the chicken wraps and fruit cups are the most popular items, even selling out at different sporting events. Rau is very optimistic about the success of the menu based on what he has seen selling so far.
“It’s going to be successful I believe. Come football season I’ll be buying 10- or 20-pound cases of grilled chicken through a wholesaler to cut costs,” he said.
Galindo believes the Right Bites concession menu can inspire other schools to begin offering healthy foods at concessions. From what Galindo and the other key players had heard, most schools are concerned with losing profits for booster clubs and losing customers at sporting events.
NEISD is closely monitoring sales records of both the regular and Right Bites menu items and in the future hope to share their findings with other schools to show them that it can be done.
“Galindo is passionate about the well-being of our students both in and out of the classroom. She wants NEISD students, parents and community members to know that our wellness initiatives extend outside the regular school day,” Naylor said.
Because of her drive to promote and encourage health, along with the support from Naylor, Gottardy, Glosson and Rau, NEISD has taken unprecedented steps to encourage students to have healthier lifestyles in school and after hours.
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
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