Offering healthy options: Group takes look at variety in concessions

Meeting at home after work, a mother and a father drive to their daughter’s volleyball match.

Between matches, they feel hungry because dinnertime has passed, and it will be late when they get home.

To tide them over until they can eat dinner, they head to the concession stand.

The typical favorites of popcorn, nachos, candy bars and soda tempt them.

Then they see a display offering pretzels, sunflower seeds, applesauce pouches and nut and cheese snack trays. There are even gluten- and peanut-free options, and bottled water and apple juice are offered as drinks.

Buying the healthier options, they felt better about the choices they made.

That has been made possible by a Healthy Jackson County partnership with local middle and high schools.

The coalition provided acrylic menu boards, tiered stands and nutrition education posters, and the schools choose and purchase the items they want to sell. The schools determine the prices and keep the profits of what they sell.

During the fall sports season, Brownstown Central and Seymour middle and high schools are offering healthy concessions. In the winter, Crothersville plans to sell healthy items at middle and high school basketball games.

Molly Marshall, a health and human sciences educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County, said this is one of Healthy Jackson County’s first initiatives related to the county receiving a two-year federally funded $1.15 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help lower the obesity rate in Jackson and Lawrence counties. Jackson County had the highest obesity rate in the state in 2012.

An access to healthier food was among the identified needs, she said.

“As a coalition, we were thinking about places where people congregate within our county,” Marshall said. “Of course, sports are pretty big all across the county, and we were thinking about reaching people when they attend these events, and it would be nice to have some healthy options.”

Oftentimes, the food and drinks at the concession stand may either be dinner or a snack. Those items usually are high in fat, salt or sugar.

“We educate kids to encourage them to make healthy food choices,” Marshall said. “If they are at places where there isn’t healthy food available, then that’s not possible. If you’re spending two or three nights in a gym every week, then that really becomes more of a habit.”

Marshall reached out to each school’s concession stand manager to see if they were interested in participating. She was happy to hear they were willing to jump on board.

Robin Ramp, the concession manager at Seymour Middle School, said she made it a point to offer gluten- and peanut-free items.

“I have had people express appreciation to have some other alternatives,” she said.

While the concession stand still includes some people’s favorite items, Ramp said it’s good to have the healthy foods to give people more options.

“I thought it was excellent because we always want to offer healthy choices,” she said.

At Brownstown Central Middle School, Athletics Director Marty Young said he lowered prices on healthier foods and bottled water at the concession stand.

That has led to people choosing water ($1) instead of soda ($2). Apples, small oranges, trail mix, baked potato chips and granola or fruit and nut bars are among the healthy food options.

Young said some things are selling better than others, but having them there is intriguing people and giving them different choices.

He said the school tried a similar initiative a few years ago, but it wasn’t well-received. He’s glad it is this time around.

“It’s a good idea to show that the schools are trying to work on having healthier lifestyles for the kids and their parents,” Young said.

Marshall said she has encouraged the schools to continue the healthy concessions for the winter and spring sports seasons. She also has reached out to managers of after-school programs to offer healthy snacks to kids.

“Hopefully, it will continue to grow and prosper,” she said.

Marshall also has talked to Bob Tabeling, director of the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department, about offering healthy snacks at events next spring and summer at the city’s parks. That follows the healthy food initiatives at state and national parks.

She said the pools in Seymour and Brownstown also plan to offer healthy food at their concession stands next summer.

“It’s thinking about what’s going on at the state and federal level and how we can bring that down to our local level,” Marshall said. “I see it as an opportunity to really have an impact on health and have choices for healthy food.”

Marshall said several research studies have shown by adding five to 10 healthy items to concession stands, they have seen an increase in sales.

“That’s what I’ve shared with our partners trying to encourage them to join, and so far, so good,” she said.

She also points out the educational aspects of the healthy options for kids and families.

“We’re not taking anything away,” she said. “We’re just adding some healthy choices to the menu.”

The healthy concessions initiative goes along with the coalition’s vision of creating and sustaining a culture of health and wellness throughout Jackson County evidenced by improved health outcomes.

“Hopefully, by seeing these healthy foods in these different places, then they will create more of a demand for them and people will choose them more often, and we’ll see the effects with our county health rankings and overall be a healthier community,” Marshall said.

On the Web

For information about Healthy Jackson County, visit facebook.com/healthyjacksoncounty.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.