Public Health Nutritionist On A Mission to Bring Healthy Foods to Vermont’s Schools - North Country Union High School Among Success Stories

DATE: February 6, 2006
Contact: Communication Office

BURLINGTON – Chantale Nadeau, a public health nutritionist, hopes to change how Vermont school systems feed their students one school system, one school, one meal, one serving at a time.

Changing how students eat is a gradual process that involves culling from cafeterias and vending machines as many unhealthy food choices as possible and replacing them – quietly and persistently - with food that fuels their bodies and minds.

“In order for children to achieve their full academic potential, healthy-eating patterns are essential,” Nadeau said. “However, any cultural shift within a school system requires the support of educators, parents and the students themselves. My role as a nutritionist is to provide expertise and advice and put forward best practices. Ultimately, it is the school system as a whole that makes this work.”

Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy Guidelines were released in December of 2005 by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Vermont Department of Education and the Vermont Department of Health, in an effort to directly counter the rising rates of child and adolescent obesity in the state.

Many schools are already working on wellness programs that directly address a decrease in physical activity and poor nutrition by adopting best-practice nutrition and fitness guidelines.

Nadeau, who works for the Newport District Office of the Vermont Department of Health, considers North Country Union High School to be an example of a school that has consistently worked on creative ways to adopt an effective school wellness policy.

Under the provisions of the Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Reauthorization Act of 2004, local school districts are required by law to establish and implement school wellness policies by the summer of 2006.

Nadeau serves on several coordinated school health teams. Her role is to serve as an inside advocate of improved nutrition by building consensus within the community and providing technical advice and suggestions within the school system.

Three years ago, North Country Union High School replaced two of the school’s six soda machines with milk vending machines. The effort was championed by the community, including area dairy farmers and area medical providers. Water and juice is offered in the remaining vending machines along with carbonated beverages.

Pulling from the state’s nutrition and fitness policy guidelines, North Country’s policy committee will present a wellness policy to the school board on Feb. 7. Among the goals is an ongoing commitment to offer healthier products and decrease the availability of foods that offer little to no nutritive benefit.

“Part of the new policy is a 50-50 mandate where whenever a non-nutritive item is offered, there must be a nutritive item offered at the same amount or level,” Nadeau said. “The school system worked out how they were going to implement this policy. It is their success story. It’s a tribute to how well coordinated school health teams, school boards, school nurses, school administrators and the community can come together for a common cause.”

Refining the wellness policy was a process that took nearly two years.

“To some people it might not seem like much but it is a big push forward,” Nadeau said, “but as a public health professional and a nutritionist I see it was a major step forward. It is, above everything else, a commitment to change. A commitment to provide our students with the best possible nutrition for their bodies and their minds.”