When you walk through the lunch line at Ketchikan schools, you have two choices about what kind of milk you’ll drink.
But neither choice comes with added sugar or flavors. You can have white nonfat milk or white 1% lowfat milk. Chocolate milk isn’t served at schools in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District at breakfast, lunch or during school fundraisers, said Emily Henry, wellness coordinator for the district.
Chocolate milk is one of a number of drinks that contain added sugars. Sugar can add up when children drink sweetened beverages at breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner – and then eat sugary foods as well. There is evidence that consuming sugary drinks is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. One year ago, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans set its first recommended limit for daily sugar intake, stating that adults and kids should limit their added sugars to less than 10 percent of the calories they consume every day. For a child, that means just one bottle of soda (16 teaspoons of sugar) or one tall glass of a powdered, sugary drink mix (11 teaspoons of sugar) is too much and exceeds that daily limit of sugar.
In 2014, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District adopted its new wellness policy that doesn’t allow chocolate or flavored milk to be sold as part of the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program. That policy holds for the elementary, middle and high schools serving 2,200 students in the district.
“Ketchikan’s choice to stop selling flavored milk at school is a great example of a district working with their food service to address parent concerns about added sugars in their children’s diets,” said Lauren Kelsey, School Partnership Coordinator with the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program. “Norms can change pretty fast in a school district. Having the policy in place during the past three years means pretty soon there won’t be kids in elementary schools who remember when chocolate milk was an option.”
The Ketchikan policy promotes other areas of nutrition, including using Alaska farm and fish products when possible in school meals and snacks, providing salads and fruits to be prominently displayed in dining areas to encourage students to choose healthy foods, and stating that food rewards or incentives should not be used in classrooms to encourage student achievement or good behavior.
“All foods available in district schools during the school day shall be offered to students with consideration for promoting school health and reducing childhood obesity,” the wellness policy states.
The Ketchikan School District’s school wellness policy is up for review again this winter. Henry said the district is considering updating its policy to model the State of Alaska Gold Standard School Wellness Policy, which was revised in 2016 to align with new federal regulations and a new state law requiring almost an hour of physical activity during each school day. Ketchikan’s District Wellness Committee meets Jan. 18 to discuss revising the policy.
Ketchikan schools have also added a number of new ways to help students drink water during the school day.
A student at Houghtaling Elementary School gathered more than 100 signatures from students and staff for a petition presented to the Parent Teacher Association asking to get a water bottling filling station installed. The PTA unanimously approved the petition, and the filling station is on order, Henry said. Ketchikan’s high school has two water bottle filling stations. Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, a charter school for grades PK-6, also has two water coolers and recently won a national award that will help pay for a water bottle filling station, said Cindy Moody, health aide at Tongass. All Tongass classrooms also allow students to keep water bottles at their desks, Moody said. If the students don’t have bottles, the school puts cups next to the water coolers so the students can serve themselves when they are thirsty, she said.
“It’s cool, it’s fresh, it looks appealing,” Moody said about the water coolers. When the cups run out, the kids are quick to let staff know.
“Which they do daily,” Moody said, “because they drink a lot of water.”
To read more about Ketchikan’s school wellness program, visit the district’s website. A copy of the district’s wellness policy also can be found on the Department of Education’s wellness policy website.
Photograph courtesy of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District