Recess before lunch brings benefits to DoDEA Japan District schools

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Recess before lunch brings benefits to DoDEA Japan District schools

by: Chris Provan | .
DoDEA Pacific | .
published: February 14, 2015

OKINAWA, Japan — You might not associate a school lunch schedule with national security goals but for three U.S. Department of Defense elementary schools in Japan, the connection is becoming clearer. With a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity already underway, White House and DoD leaders are working to protect long-term national security by promoting healthier lifestyles today.

Proper diet and exercise are important to child development and educators are finding creative ways to help children stay both healthy and active. Yokota West Elementary School, Mendel Elementary School, and Darby Elementary School made a simple change this school year that is showing promising results. By rearranging the school schedules so students hit the playground before the lunch line, the schools are experiencing less food waste and fewer disciplinary problems. And with less incentive to rush through lunch to squeeze in extra playtime, students are finishing more of their milk, fruits, and vegetables for better overall nutrition. Traditionally, most public schools schedule lunch after recess but the recess before lunch trend is starting to gain traction and for good reason. RBL is endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a best practice because it enhances student health and academic outcomes.

The three Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Japan volunteered to participate in the RBL program as part of the DoD’s broader Healthy Base Initiative demonstration project. Launched in 2013, the purpose of the HBI is to promote healthier lifestyles on military installations for Servicemembers, DoD civilians, military-connected family members, and even retirees.

And the RBL program is making a real difference at Commander Fleet Activity Sasebo’s Darby ES where the overall weight of cafeteria waste following the lunch period has fallen by 35 percent. DoDEA Japan District Superintendent Lois Rapp also noticed the significant reduction in food waste but said there’s another educational benefit to the RBL program for students, “They are also calmer returning to class after lunch rather than recess.”

At Yokota West ES, student lunch waste that used to fill five bags now only fills two. The school also noted a 50 percent reduction in the number of students reporting to the school nurse with a stomach ache after lunch.

To more closely study the progress of the HBI in general and the RBL in particular, a special team from the Defense Health Agency will visit Mendel ES and Yokota West ES on Yokota Air Base Feb. 20-22. The HBI team will be led by Deputy Director of the U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Kimberly Elenberg. During the visit, the team will also present a special award to Mendel ES School Nurse Lily Bagtas for being a champion of the RBL program at her school.