Welcome to the March 2016 issue of the MSBO newsletter.
Immediate Past President
Alpena Public Schools
Petoskey Public Schools
Walled Lake Consolidated Schools
Associate Member Representative
By: Diane Golzynski, Assistant Director, Child Nutrition Programs, Michigan Department of Education
The city of Flint, Michigan is on the minds of many due to the discovery of high lead levels in the city water system. The water crisis in Flint has districts around the state thinking "what can we do to prevent the same from happening in our district?" Maximizing participation in school meals and other child nutrition programs is one of the important first steps.
Lead is a poisonous heavy metal that can hurt the brain, kidneys and parts of the nervous system. It is invisible to the human eye and has no smell. Exposure can occur from different sources such as paint, gasoline, solder, and pottery and through different pathways such as air, food, water, dust, and soil. No safe lead blood level has been identified and all sources of lead exposure should be controlled or eliminated. Due to amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996, lead levels in tap water have dropped in the past two decades. Even so, older infrastructure and drops in the number of families using those water systems have left lead as a public health threat in areas such a Flint. Lead found in tap water typically comes from older fixtures, the solder that connects pipes, or when water sits in leaded pipes for several hours prior to use.
Lead is of greatest concern for children under 6 years old and for the unborn babies of pregnant women because their bodies are still growing and developing. Those of highest risk are the poor, members of racial-ethnic minority groups, recent immigrants, those that have parents who are exposed to lead at work, and those that live in older, poorly maintained rental properties. Some health effects are permanent such as a slow growth and development, damage to hearing and speech, behavior problems, and difficulty paying attention and learning.
Lead poisoning can be prevented. The key is to keep children from coming in contact with lead and assure they maintain good nutritional status to protect their bodies from the lead they do come into contact with. Three key nutrients play a role in preventing the harmful effects of lead in the body: calcium, iron, and Vitamin C. Calcium reduces lead absorption in the body. Calcium is found in milk, some yogurt, cheese, tofu, and green leafy vegetables such as turnip greens and kale. Normal levels of iron in the diet work to protect the body from the harmful effects of lead by preventing its absorption. Dietary iron sources include iron fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, stewed tomatoes, white and kidney beans and lean red meats. Vitamin C and iron-rich foods work together to reduce lead absorption and Vitamin C can help in the body's elimination of lead through the urine. Good sources of Vitamin C includes citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits) and their juices, tomatoes, strawberries, kiwi, and bell peppers.
Children with empty stomachs absorb more lead than children with full stomachs. Not only is it important to provide young children with four to six small meals and snacks every day, but breakfast plays a key role in "breaking the overnight fast" especially as it comes to reducing lead absorption and increasing lead elimination from the body. School administrators can play a critical role in assuring full access and participation by all children in school meal programs such as school lunch and breakfast. These United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs provide the key nutrition children need to fight off the effects of things such as lead poisoning and other chronic illnesses. Be sure to employ alternative methods of serving breakfast (such as in the classroom or in the halls during class-change periods) to assure maximum participation. Work with the district’s food service director to implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) if your district is eligible so that all children can eat for free and the district can receive the maximum amount of federal reimbursement available for meals served. Apply for grants such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Equipment Grant and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Maximize the use of USDA Commodities, focusing on the three target nutrients for lead mitigation. Assure there is a salad bar in every school building and school policies and practices promote participation in all school meals. By maximizing participation in all USDA child nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast, every child has the opportunity to maximize their nutritional status. Good nutrition does not make a child smarter, but can put a healthier child in the chair to maximize learning.
Another important time in which children need access to meals is when school is not in session. Work with the school food service staff to provide meals at night and on weekends in areas where the children are at the highest risk of not having a healthy diet at home. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) administers many USDA child nutrition programs that offer reimbursement for meals served in the evenings, on weekends, during school vacations, and during unanticipated school closures (such as emergencies, teacher strikes, snow days, etc.). Contact MDE for more information on the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) at risk meals and the Meet Up and Eat Up program at 517-373-3347.
Help spread the word to families in the district about other opportunities to provide nutritious foods to their families such as the Women's, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Whether your district is near Flint or far away geographically, this crisis provides everyone with the opportunity to understand the importance good nutrition plays in the health and education of children.