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JCPS Students Heading to the Farm to Combat Childhood Obesity

Two Jefferson County Public Schools are getting some help in the fight against childhood obesity.A $200,000 grant announced Wednesday will help local nonprofit groups The Food Literacy Project and New Rootsestablish programs in Wellington Elementary and Hazelwood Elementary to educate students and their families about the benefits of a healthy diet,  said Alice Bridges, vice president of Healthy Communities for KentuckyOne Health.The programs will also help the students find where to purchase fresh produce and what to do with it once they’ve found it, Bridges said.Farm-to-Family Obesity Prevention Initiatives will be developed at both schools using the funds.  The initiatives will include after school programs and workshops for students and their families and farm-based learning field trips to Oxmoor Farms, Bridges said.The initiatives will allow students first through fourth grades to conduct field studies and year-long multi-visit experiences to an outdoor classroom at Oxmoor Farm, according to a news release.  The students will grow, cook and market their produce to learn more about the process food takes from the field to the plate.Both Wellington Elementary and Hazelwood Elementary are located indesignated food deserts, Bridges said—which means the residents of those neighborhoods don’t have nearby access to fresh produce.About 95 percent of students at Hazelwood Elementary, located in south Louisville, take part in free or reduced meal plans, according to JCPS data.  Of the 471 students enrolled at Hazelwood, 19 percent are considered to be obese, according to information provided by KentuckyOne Health.At Wellington Elementary, in southwest Louisville, about 80 percent of students are on free or reduced meal plans, according to Jefferson County Public School data.  About 23 percent of Wellington’s 493 students are obese, according to information provided by KentuckyOne Health.“We are grateful for this engaging, hands-on opportunity for our students,” said Bonnie Ciarroccki, coordinator  of health services and health promotions for JCPS.Just more than 20 percent of Kentucky children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.And as WFPL has previously reported, obesity—specifically obesity in high school students—is a major issue in Kentucky.  The state has the highest percentage of obese high school students in the U.S., according to a recent report.Related: Kentucky Tops U.S. In Obesity Among High Schoolers, Report Says“Our goal is to help children be the change agent within their own families and improve their knowledge of fresh food—where it comes from, how to incorporate it in their daily diet and want it,"  Bridges said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.