Shirley Hills fourth-grader featured in national school lunch campaign

A Facebook post asking for models has led Sarah Cook to Washington, D.C.

Her face, that is.

The fourth-grader at Shirley Hills Elementary School is part of an ad campaign launched Aug. 1 by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has put billboards up in the Union Station Metro stop near the U.S. Senate.

Sarah’s ad, which says, “Let’s move cheese out of my school lunch,” is hoped to help jump start a healthier lifestyle for children.

The nonprofit group is trying to reinvigorate the “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity campaign developed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Laurie Cook submitted her daughter’s photo for the contest. As a 9-year-old, Sarah has been made aware of healthier choices for a long time because her mother is a vegan.

“I want it to be her choice,” Cook said of whether Sarah chooses the vegan route.

As a hospice nurse, Cook sees the effects of what bad nutrition can do to a body.

Cook plans to talk to the nutritionists at her daughter’s school to see what can be changed to make the menus healthier.

She would like to see more choices such as larger salad bars, less processed meat and options for vegetarians.

“I wish school lunches were healthier,” Sarah said via e-mail.

At Shirley Hills Elementary, Sarah said one day her classmates ate nachos, pizza and chicken nuggets. Her homemade lunch consisted of hazelnut butter and honey on wheat and grapes.

“In accordance with the National School Lunch Act, we offer five components for every lunch in Houston County, which includes a meat (or equivalent), grain, fruit, vegetable and milk,” Lauren Koff, dietitian with the Houston County School Nutrition Program, wrote in an e-mail.

Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said the nutrition guidelines were developed at a time when most children were not getting enough to eat.

“The rules and regulations are arguably out-of-date,” Levin said.

Children are getting too many calories, and school lunches are contributing to obesity in children as well as diseases such as Type II diabetes, Levin said.

Levin said the change needs to start from a grassroots effort of concerned parents. The mentality surrounding children’s nutrition also needs to change.

“Nothing bothers me more than someone saying, ‘(Children) won’t eat that,’ ” she said.

Houston County has started initiatives to try to encourage healthier eating.

“We offer many low fat options daily ... and have removed fryers from our elementary schools,” Koff said.

The choice is up to children on what to eat.

Levin encourages schools to use education to teach children to make healthier choices.

“I’d like to see more of that, so kids aren’t afraid of broccoli,” Levin said.