Schools have a long way to go to meet new wellness rules for students, set to go into effect at the end of the school year.
Statewide, just two schools comply with rules that don’t allow the sale — or distribution — of sugary drinks or high-fat foods on campus, according to a new report.
Meanwhile, about one-third of schools surveyed meet required minimums for the length of physical education classes.
And 27 percent of schools haven’t formed a wellness committee to talk about how to promote healthy lifestyles.
On a positive note, 93 percent of schools offer 20 minutes of recess each day during which students are encouraged to be active, according to the report, based on surveys of principals from 224 public schools.
The figures, to be presented this week at a Board of Education meeting, are particularly concerning given Hawaii’s struggle with childhood obesity, said Jay Maddock, director of the University of Hawaii’s Office of Public Health Studies.
But, he added, they’re not surprising.
"The more we talk to schools, the more we hear that academics have to be focused on," said Maddock, a member of the team that evaluated schools on whether they are meeting the wellness guidelines. "We’ve had such an emphasis on academics with No Child Left Behind, and I think in a lot of ways we’re forgetting we’re educating the whole child."
School officials also say physical education and wellness policies sometimes have had to take a back seat as they work to boost reading and math proficiency and meet rising annual progress goals under the federal No Child law.
Compounding this, children are increasingly living more sedentary lifestyles, opting for computer time over playing outside.
The wellness guidelines were approved by the Board of Education in 2007 to address increasing concerns about the number of Hawaii children who are overweight.
Schools were asked to start implementing the guidelines four years ago so they would be in compliance by May.
Overall, the report gives schools a score of 61 percent — a "D-" — in meeting the new rules.
In several complexes, no schools met guidelines.
Schools in Hana complex, for example, had wellness committees but met none of the other indicators.
In Kau on the Big Island, schools met just one guideline: offering at least 20 minutes for recess.
About 28 percent of Hawaii high school students are overweight (compared with about 32 percent nationally), and only one-third report being regularly physically active, according to Department of Health figures.
Statistics like those have prompted some schools to encourage physical activity, incorporating activities such as interactive video games and yoga in classes to get students excited about exercise.
But those programs are still relatively rare, and they compete for funding and time with other subjects at elementary and middle schools, which are not required to offer physical education classes.
"With No Child Left Behind and a lot of other competing factors besides PE, there are only so many minutes in the school day," said Cathy Ross, school health coordinator at the Department of Health. She added, "We definitely see a lot of schools that have made progress."
One of those schools is Kapolei Middle, which offers a popular dance class as a physical education elective, giving students the opportunity to learn everything from the fox trot to the cha-cha.
Teacher Tracy Taylor said his goal is to help kids "find activities that make them feel good about themselves."
He also approaches his class holistically — students are taught about how all the things they do contribute to their overall health.
"We want to instill in them the independent desire for well-being," Taylor said. "They do understand that what we eat, how much we’re active, sleep deprivation, all these things are coming into play."
Taylor added that the wellness indicators report, though discouraging, is an important first step in figuring out where schools are in meeting healthy lifestyle goals.
"If this were a math class, we would be monitoring their math prog-ress," he said.
The report found that most schools aren’t offering the minimum amount of activity in PE classes — 55 minutes per week for fourth and fifth grade and 200 minutes per week for grades 6-12.
The biggest struggle for schools, though, is complying with rules about what food and drinks can — and can’t — be sold or given out on campus. All but 1 percent of schools surveyed said they weren’t meeting those guidelines.
Under the new rules, food and beverages whose first ingredient is sugar aren’t allowed. Neither are snacks that are more than 200 calories per serving, or those with 8 grams of fat or more. Elementary school students may have water, low-fat or nonfat milk and 100 percent fruit juice but no soda or sports drinks.
High-schoolers may have sports drinks, but only if they’re athletes, only if they’ve participated in one hour of physical activity and only after school.
In trying to comply with the guidelines, some schools have done away with traditional fundraisers, like bake sales and ticket sales for Portuguese sausage, said Glenna Owens, Department of Education school food service director. High schools have also cleared out their vending machines — no more sodas and junk food.
Still, many schools are falling short.
"It’s been a real challenge for schools" to comply, said Owens.
She added the rules require a mindset change, sometimes doing away with traditional fundraisers or turning to healthier party foods.
Aina Haina Elementary School has gotten rid of food sales and now has just one fundraiser a year, a fun run. The event garnered $100,000 this school year.
Roslyn Chun, fundraising chairwoman for Aina Haina’s Parent Teacher Association, said parents seem to like not having to worry about selling food tickets for everything from chili to cookies. "It’s for the kids and getting kids more active," she said. "It’s healthy."
Royal Elementary has also tried to do away with unhealthy food sales, and turned to selling kalua pig this school year, rather than Portuguese sausage, and having book fairs.
The school also switched to serving water at functions (because it couldn’t afford 100 percent fruit juice) and has asked parents to send in healthful snacks.
But it’s tough to break old habits, said Principal Ann Sugibayashi.
Parents still send cupcakes and cakes to classes for their children’s birthdays, though they don’t seem to do it as much, she said.
If sweets are sent in, she added, it’s pretty hard to turn them away.
"We will let it go," she said. "There are some (parents) that just won’t listen."