Health / 2013

School Fuel Tackling Childhood Obesity in the Los Angeles Unified School District

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education

Nowhere is the future of LA County’s health more at stake than in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). According to the California Physical Fitness Report, over half of the students tested in LAUSD, the nation’s second largest school district, are considered to be overweight. Health officials universally consider childhood obesity to be the most important indicator of increased future health risks, especially chronic disease, and mortality & morbidity.

Now, imagine the ability to reverse the trend of childhood obesity in L.A. Imagine in the year 2050, that heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, and liver disease are no longer the leading causes of premature death in Los Angeles.

Now imagine every student in LAUSD from today through 2050 acquiring the education, knowledge, and habits through participation in our School Fuel Program to live a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Working together with LAUSD, the School Fuel program has the ability to create this change and alter the trajectory of health indicators for LA County. School Fuel will equip 2.5 million future Angelenos, every L.A. city public school student from now to 2050, with the habits to live healthier.

OUR IDEA: The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, LAUSD and nine partners are tackling the LA health challenge head-on through School Fuel. By changing the way every LAUSD student starts their day and learns about nutrition, health and wellness, School Fuel addresses our city’s childhood obesity epidemic. The program has two components. First, School Fuel ensures that over half a million LAUSD students will receive a nutritious start to every day by serving students breakfast in the classroom after the bell. Second, an integrated health and wellness campaign will be incorporated into the breakfast packaging to educate students on how to make healthy choices regarding nutrition and lifestyles.

Through School Fuel, each of the District’s more than 300,000 elementary students and a significant portion of the more than 350,000 secondary students will receive breakfast in the classroom. Breakfasts will be delivered directly to the classroom, where students and teachers spend the first 10 minutes of the school day eating breakfast together. During these 10 minutes of communal time, students and teachers will build a familial learning community. At some secondary schools, students will “grab” their breakfasts and “go” to class in the “Grab n’ Go” model with new breakfast kiosks on campus making it convenient and attractive for students.

Perhaps the most innovative part of School Fuel will be the integrated healthy habits campaign that utilizes all parts of the breakfast as a platform for teaching students about the importance of food, nutrition and healthy lifestyles. For years, consumer food companies have used colorful and distinctive food packaging to market unhealthy snacks to minors. From Cap’n Crunch® to Chester the Cheetah,® children have been conditioned to respond to these powerful brands. School Fuel takes the same concept, but applies it to the LAUSD breakfast program with the goal of educating students. School Fuel branded food trays, milk cartons, and other packaged goods will be introduced to all LAUSD students beginning in the 2013 school year. By leveraging the District’s purchasing power and existing vendor relationships, the bulk of the cost to transform the packaging of all the breakfast items into vehicles for health and nutrition education is born by District suppliers. Our initial estimates that School Fuel will deliver at least 50 million health education impressions to LAUSD students annually. Building on this base, School Fuel partners will develop teacher and parent resources to supplement the branded campaign. We believe the combination of distinctive, message-oriented packaging, together with teacher and parent outreach will create spontaneous learning opportunities for students and staff.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Since our inception in 2011, The LA Fund for Public Education worked with LAUSD to achieve several noteworthy accomplishments. In addition to School Fuel, we have made three significant investments in LAUSD to date.

ARTS MATTER: is an unprecedented campaign to revitalize arts education in the nation’s second largest school district. The campaign has been developed to drive public awareness for the critical role of arts education in public schools. By bringing together leading contemporary artists, including Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari, as well as Los Angeles entertainment, civic, and education leaders, Arts Matter is focused on rebuilding arts education in the creative capital of the world. The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education was inspired to spearhead this initiative to address the creativity crisis existing in Los Angeles public schools. Today, only 2% of all instructional time is devoted to the arts in L.A. elementary schools. The purpose of Arts Matter is to develop a system that integrates arts instruction with traditional core subjects to dramatically increase creative thinking and learning for all students. All proceeds raised throughout Arts Matter will directly support an innovative R&D fund to develop arts integration programs in L.A. public schools. In addition to the successful awareness campaign, the fund raised over $850,000 to fund multi-year arts integration programs.

ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGN Bullying is a pervasive problem in our schools with 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem. Studies have linked bullying with anxiety, depression, and lower academic achievement. We realized that in order to create a safe school environment where every student feels free to pursue their dreams without the fear of harassment or intimidation, students must take personal responsibility and show courage to stop bullying when they see it. When individual students stand up to bullying, they can ignite a cultural change school-wide. Together with LAUSD, the LA Fund brought together close to 7,000 students from 49 different schools to the Nokia Theatre for a screening of the documentary “Bully” followed by a townhall discussion. The largest gathering of youth against bullying in California, the students that attended were given the inspiration to be the change agents to combat bullying on their campuses. The LA Fund will be providing anti-bullying grants to further support schools in their cultural transformation.

BLENDED LEARNING: We have established three different exemplar “blended learning” programs that integrate online curriculum with traditional teacher-led classroom instruction. Our programs are pilots to create new instructional models to support LAUSD in its bold initiative to cross the digital divide for every student through the use of tablet computers. Each program leverages technology as part of a rotation model where students circulate between classroom instruction, online learn

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

This team of partners meets together quarterly to provide input and support for this collaborative project:

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD); California Endowment; California Food Policy Advocates; ChildObesity 180; Creative Artists Agency Foundation; Healthy School Food Coalition;No Kid Hungry LA / Share our Strength; InnerCity Struggle;Roll Global SEIU Local 99

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

<0>Initially, School Fuel will be considered successful if the breakfast participation rate at the implementing schools increases from 29% (actual districtwide rate in 2011-2012) to over 70% in three years. </p>

A national partner housed at Tufts University, ChildObesity180 (CO180), will have a dedicated researcher located at the LA Fund. CO180 is focused on leading the research component of the program, looking at student health, behavior, academic achievement and other indicators of success. CO180 will be responsible for designing and implementing the multi-year project that will evaluate School Fuel’s effectiveness.

School Fuel has the potential to change nutrition and health for students of the LAUSD. As such, all of the partners of School Fuel will be accountable to a clear set of outcome and research measures to guide the program towards success. We have budgeted $50,000 per year to manage a large-scale research and evaluation project at the scale of LAUSD. While we expect nonprofit and academic partners to provide much of the services pro bono, this funding will cover project management and out-of-pocket expenses.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

In a recent study, obesity has cost Los Angeles County over $10 billion yearly in increased healthcare costs and reduced productivity. If the obesity epidemic continues, the impacts on our economy and health care system due to chronic diseases are dire. For children, being unhealthy will hinder them from obtaining a quality education, and eventually gainful employment and full participation in society.

Addressing the obesity crisis directly in Los Angeles with our comprehensive School Fuel Program that will impact the nearly 650,000 LAUSD students’ health indicators such as obesity within the first 3 years of the program. If successful, the program is projected to reach 2.5 million students by 2050 based on current enrollment numbers.

In addition, research shows that schools with high breakfast participation yield tremendous student results. Numerous independent studies show that serving students breakfast significantly improves their cognitive and mental abilities leading to increased reading and math scores. Other studies have linked breakfast to improved attendance, fewer disciplinary office referrals, fewer visits to the school nurse, and reductions in late arrivals to school, and most significantly a reduction in the likelihood of obesity and type 2 Diabetes.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In the year 2050, through School Fuel all Los Angeles Unified School students will start their day with a nutritious and healthy meal. In part due to School Fuel’s educational messaging, students will be informed on how to make decisions regarding healthy habits and healthy eating. As a result, the percentage of students that are overweight will become a small minority and their risk of future health problems such as type 2 Diabetes and obesity will be significantly reduced. A healthier city will not only reduce the health care costs of Los Angeles, but also increase its productivity.