Imagine a nutrition education program so compelling that a middle school teacher requests the installation of a milk machine on campus so students have healthier beverage choices at snack time.
That is exactly what happened at Mitchell Senior Elementary School in Atwater, Calif., after Patty Stroming taught Dairy Council of California's middle-school program, Exercise Your Options. She is now working with her school superintendent to get the milk machine on campus.
School districts around the country are scrutinizing foods available on campus for their nutritional contributions given the growing concern for obesity and other health problems associated with poor eating habits.
Consumption of milk and dairy foods sharply declines when children reach sixth, seventh and eighth grades, as they become more independent and are eating away from the home. This is an age when they need to be getting calcium in their diet and building peak bone mass.
By focusing on behavior change, nutrition education programs like Exercise Your Options provide the dairy industry with an opportunity to affect milk consumption statistics given the health portfolio of milk and dairy foods, which is growing in importance as science continues to unfold new contributions to optimal health from the family of dairy foods. The program incorporates real-world CD-ROM-based video scenarios that personalize the challenges students face in deciding what to eat and how much exercise they need. The segments address situations ranging from how to eat a healthy breakfast and make nutritious choices at a shopping mall food court, to figuring out how much exercise to get and determining the best fast food choices. Of particular importance is that the segments prominently feature dairy foods as important choices in creating a nutritious diet.
Last spring, when the federal government announced its MyPyramid program, most of the nation's nutrition education programs - including Dairy Council's - had to revise nutritional information that was based on the previous, now obsolete, Food Guide Pyramid.
Dairy Council programs are among the few available today that reflect MyPyramid and offer consumers ways to apply the recommendations to their own diet plans. As a result, Dairy Council programs are being positioned within education and health policy-maker circles as programs that disseminate information providing realistic action steps people can take to improve their food choices.