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Better School Nutrition May Be Leading To Lower Childhood Obesity Rates

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Childhood obesity rates in Mississippi are slowly declining. That's according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which showed an 11.6 percent drop in the number of overweight and obese children in grades K through 5 over an eight-year period.

It's 8:15 and students are filing in and out of the cafeteria at Byram Middle School. Most carry a small tray with a breakfast burrito and juice or milk, others go for grilled cheese and fruit.

The school will serve more than 500 students breakfast, and about 850 students for lunch. Today it's Tuna Salad with Crackers, Chicken Alfredo or a Ham & Cheese Hoagie. 

Students typically have plenty of options, but as always students have mixed feelings about the menu. Here's Gabrielle Nelson and Tyler Ward.

"It's mediocre, how about that?" says Nelson. "It's not special. It's nothing to it. The only thing special about it is when you can buy an ice cream bar or something."

"It's good," counters Ward. "It gives me energy for the day, and I get more active."

Despite the mixed reviews, Byram is among the 99 percent of Mississippi's schools complying with state and federal nutrition guidelines. And those guidelines may be helping many students lose weight. 

Jessica Donze Black is the director of the Kid's Safe and Healthful Foods Project -- a division of Pew Charitable Trusts -- that looks at research and policy aimed at improving school nutrition. 

"School nutrition today, there's more, whole grains, there's less sodium, less saturated and trans fat," Black says. "Foods are served in a portion size that's appropriate for the age group. There are more fruits and vegetables in a greater variety. So meeting kids nutrition needs, while also trying to do it in a way that teaches students to eat and enjoy more healthy options."

While childhood obesity rates may be declining, rates for adults in Mississippi continue to climb.