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School lunches touted in fat fight

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A coalition of farm, food and school groups Monday unveiled a publicity campaign to get kids to eat school lunches and stay fit.

The campaign was funded with a $400,000 grant secured by the people who introduced Americans to the dancing raisins, the California Raisin Board. It features a Web site aimed at kids and a radio spot performed by pop idol Hilary Duff.

OAS_AD('Button20'); The Web site,, will track two California teens trying to lose weight and get fit, promote essay contests for scholarships at cooking schools and encourage kids to tell their own health and nutrition stories online.

The Duff radio message, which cost the campaign $25,000, tries to appeal to image-conscious teens with lines such as, "Even though I spend an hour in the makeup chair before each show, that alone isn't going to make me look good. I have to stay fit and eat right because, hello, what goes inside is eventually going to show on the outside."

Duff, whose recent weight loss and gaunt appearance have prompted some to wonder if she has an eating disorder, goes on to tout the benefits of school lunch:

"A well balanced meal is super important for your body, and I have learned all of this is just waiting for you at the school cafeteria. Eating at the school cafeteria is almost like having your very own chef watch your diet for you."

Touted as a campaign to curb obesity in kids "in a cool way," the media effort does not, however, promote increased access to physical education, nutrition curriculum or healthier meal options for students. Instead, the messages are aimed at improving the tarnished image of public school food.

"For years we have known that we have a good program, but we don't market it," explained Rhonda DeVaux, president of the California School Nutrition Association, which is sponsoring the campaign. "We know our meals are nutritious."

With the growing waistlines of kids and fears of increasing rates of diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related diseases, schools have become a target for blame, DeVaux said.

Much of the criticism has been aimed at the a la carte items - which might be anything from a burrito to a slice of pizza or a soft drink - sold by school districts and at the junk food sold by parent and student groups, she said.

DeVaux acknowledged many students choose these items over the healthier full meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines. She said her organization supported two bills signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month that will set strict limits on sales of sodas, a la carte and other items that do not meet newly specified limits on fats, sugar and calories.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which helped draft the new laws, praised the school nutrition association's effort.

"The single most important way to encourage children to eat healthy foods while they are in school is to encourage them to eat meals that meet the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) standard," he said.

Still, experts acknowledge that unless the full meals offered look appetizing, students will either skip them, bring their own, or buy whatever else is available.

Dona Richwine is a nutrition specialist for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where every school has a salad bar with fresh produce from local farmers markets. She is pushing adoption of AB 826, legislation to make it easier for schools to set up similar programs.

"One-third of our students who purchase lunch purchase salads," she said. Without them, those students would either eat a la carte items, food from home or the regular hot lunch that does not always use fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.

"If you make the hot lunch more appealing, maybe they would choose the whole meal," she said.

About the writer: The Bee's Dorsey Griffith can be reached at (916) 321-1089 or - Get the whole story every day - SUBSCRIBE NOW! 

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