Shamane Mills

Wisconsin Public Radio

Lawmakers are hoping to encourage students to eat better by updating school curriculum.

To graduate high school, Wisconsin students have to take a health class worth half a credit. A bill recently signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker says that required health class has to include nutrition instruction, based on guidelines that are updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The new state law updates a statute originally written around World War ll, said Christina Lemon, a registered dietitian and president of the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While many local districts have crafted updated health curriculum, the law itself hasn't been updated in more than 70 years.

"That’s not to say that nothing newer than that has been taught in our schools. I don't mean to imply that," Lemon explained "This at least updates our statute and ties it to evidence-based standards established by our government.

The law it replaced said school boards must provide instruction on the vitamin content of food and the health value of dairy products.

"There’s a lot more to nutrition than that," said Lemon, whose organization lobbied for a change in the state law.

The federal government’s guidelines suggest limiting added sugars and saturated fats, reducing sodium intake and eating nutrient-dense foods. The guidelines are intended to help people maintain a healthy weight and help prevent disease.

"We have a problem with obesity in this country, and it's not going away. It’s getting worse," Lemon said. "So there is a focus on how to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight."

The changes to nutrition education in Wisconsin are also supported by the School Nutrition Association of Wisconsin. Diane Agrell, director of food service for the Winneconne Community School District and president of SNA-WI, said there have also been improvements to school lunches.

"I have salad bars at each one of my schools. And (students) go right to the salad bar, and they’re very receptive to picking fruits and vegetables," said Agrell.

On Thursday, another federal agency announced it hopes to improve public health through better nutrition. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will look at food ingredients and claims on product labels that refer to a food as "healthy" or "natural."

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