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P.J. Stokes bites into a deep-fried Reeses's at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007. All of the deep-fried goodies are being cooked in oil free of the trans fats linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Indiana is the first state to make the switch at its fair.

Darron Cummings, Associated Press

An important step in fighting obesity

  • May 30, 2011 - 8:19 PM

The nation's annual health care bill comes to a whopping $2.4 trillion. Most of it is what medical experts call "downstream" spending -- the cost of hospitalization and treatments for someone who's sick.

Too little is still spent "upstream" on keeping people healthy. That's why a new back-to-the-future state health program called "Great Trays" deserves recognition.

The program is funded by a $2.3 million federal grant. Other states also received funds, but Minnesota health officials wisely decided to aim the money far upstream -- at the growing number of school kids who are overweight or obese.

In Minnesota, that's nearly one in four kids aged 10 to 17.

The Great Trays program combats this disturbing trend with common sense. In workshops around the state, it's promoting from-scratch cooking and locally grown foods -- and providing training -- for schools that have grown reliant on processed convenience foods.

In fact, state officials working on the program reported that some schools needed better or additional equipment -- such as wedgers, knives and food processors -- to get farm-fresh foods cafeteria-ready.

Chicken nuggets aren't likely to disappear from school menus any time soon. But this program will help give Minnesota more healthy choices at a place where they eat up to half their daily calories -- at school.

Staffers representing more than 1,000 state schools have already participated in workshops held around the state. More workshops are scheduled this summer.

The effort will also help schools prepare for stricter federal nutrition requirements on the way. The Minnesota Department of Health is collaborating on the program with seven other agencies and organizations.

School-lunch suppliers such as Minnesota's Schwan Food Co. have also taken laudable steps recently to cut fat and sodium out of cafeteria food. The Great Trays program builds on that momentum and is an important step in fighting the worrisome obesity epidemic in kids.

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