WASHINGTON - It's harder to find a french fry in a school cafeteria these days, and junk food is less common at school fund-raisers, a federal study released yesterday reports.
But when it comes to encouraging healthy habits, the nation's schools still aren't earning straight A's.
About 19 percent of schools served french fries to students in 2006, down from 40 percent six years earlier, according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The percentage of schools that sold cookies or other high-fat baked goods as part of a fund-raiser dropped from 67 percent to 54 percent during the six-year period.
And in nearly half of the schools, students can select bottled water instead of sugary drinks from school vending machines or snack bars, up from one-third of schools in 2000.
Public health officials are cautiously optimistic about the new figures.
"We're not satisfied," said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health. "We still have a long, long way to go, but it is encouraging."
About 90 percent of districts require physical education in all schools. Still, it is rare for schools to provide daily physical education to students in all grades.
About two-thirds of elementary schools provide daily recess to all pupils.
Students need daily exercise, said Jan Harp Domene, president of the national PTA. "Kids that learn this at an early age will practice this into adulthood," she said. "We are growing a whole generation of couch potatoes."
About one-third of US children are overweight, and 17 percent are obese, figures that have been rising in recent years.
"We're really at the early phases of trying to counter what right now could be the most pervasive health problem that ever hit the United States, and that is obesity in children," said Dr. David Appel, a pediatrician and the director of the Montefiore School Health Program, which provides medical services to children in New York.
The study found about one-third of schools have a full-time nurse, a figure that has remained steady. About half of schools employ a part-time nurse.
Wechsler said getting more full-time nurses in schools is advisable, so they can keep an eye on injuries and wounds and help ensure that good sanitary practices are in place.
That is important in light of recent cases of staph infections in schools. In Virginia this week, a student died after contracting an antibiotic-resistant staph infection.
The federal study said many states are increasingly requiring middle schools and high schools to teach sex education and pregnancy prevention.
The availability of HIV counseling, testing, and referral services also is up in middle and high schools.
Bullying prevention programs are more common as well. The percentage of elementary and middle schools that participated in programs to prevent bullying increased from 63 percent to 77 percent. The CDC doesn't have that trend data for high schools.
The use of security or surveillance equipment also is on the rise.
About two-thirds of schools have a ban on tobacco use at school and at off-campus, school-sponsored events. That's an increase from roughly half of all schools in 2000.