Camden bans school bake sales in its fight against childhood obesity

Since adopting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national policy for healthier school meals earlier this year, the Camden School District has been serving more fruits and vegetables.

But students were still getting their fill of pizza, giant soft pretzels and cookies at various fund-raising events after school.

Not any more.

A new school district wellness policy, adopted by the Board of Education on Nov. 27, bans bake sales and other food-related fund-raisers.

“The cheesecakes and pizza, we want them to get away from that,” said Valeria Galarza, project manager for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids in Camden, which helped write the district’s new policy.
District food service provider Aramark and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Camden County also were involved in the drafting the new policy.

As part of a citywide effort to reduce childhood obesity, the Camden Board of Education developed the wellness policy to ensure healthier meals, nutrition education, and physical activity, according to a district news release.

Thirty-five percent of 3- to 5-year-olds in Camden are overweight or obese, compared to 21 percent nationally, and 42 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds in Camden are overweight or obese, compared to 34 percent nationally, according to the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.

In recent years, organizations such as Camden Children’s Garden and Campbell Soup have launched programs geared to cutting the city’s childhood obesity rates.

But Galarza says it is going to take awhile for children to get used to eating healthy at school. But she is confident it can work, citing Pennsauken’s similar strict wellness program.

“It’s taken them awhile to get the rhythm of it,” Galarza said of Pennsauken’s 5-year-old district wellness policy. “Their culture has changed.”

Galarza said she and the district are exploring alternative fund-raising ideas for sports teams and student organizations. Books and candles were examples Galarza quickly cited.

The new plan, which also includes mandatory daily recess for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for high schoolers, will begin in phases starting in September.

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