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wellness programs


The Rio Grande City Consolidated (Texas) Independent School District is located in Starr County, a poverty-stricken area that has a history of high death rates from diabetes. Located on the Mexican border, RGCCISD serves a 99 percent Hispanic population on 14 campuses. Of the nearly 10,800 students, 88 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. On top of that, Texas is ranked worst in the nation for health care coverage, with 26 percent of residents lacking insurance.

Nationally, health-care costs are rising roughly 10 percent each year. Costs at the School District of Manatee County (Fla.), however, are rising at a mere 1 percent since the district implemented an employee wellness program, dubbed HealthVantage, three years ago. Since the wellness program took root, the district has saved nearly 14 percent on health-care costs compared to other districts and $1.3 million for medical and prescription services during the first half of 2010 compared to 2009.

School lunch programs have been under a fierce attack since the wellness wave hit the nation with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, says Dennis Barrett, director of food services at Los Angeles Unified School District. But according to Barrett, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put stricter guidelines on food, such as reduced sodium and increased portion sizes of fruits and vegetables, over five years ago.

First Lady Michelle Obama launched her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity last year, and pointed to Somerville, Mass., as a model city where civic and educational leaders are creating a culture of healthy living for young residents. In particular, Somerville Public Schools' (SPS) wide-ranging efforts to improve lunch and breakfast programs exemplify a core goal of Let's Move— a goal also at the center of the federal Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.