Mena, AR.– The Mena School District is partnering with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Office of Community Health & Research to increase access to healthy, nutritious foods for schoolchildren across Arkansas.

School districts serving rural Arkansas communities are engaging with UAMS’s Creating Healthy Environments for Schools (CHEFS) program to implement operational changes to their food service programs to improve nutrition without raising school district costs. In this program, school districts work together with research staff and dieticians from the UAMS Community Health & Research Healthy Food team to increase student access to fresh, healthy produce and to lower sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in school meals.

The Mena Public Schools will share data to UAMS researchers about the nutrition quality of foods served, the numbers of students participating in school meals, and students’ preferences for and consumption of healthy school food items. UAMS will work with school administration, the district child nutrition director, the district food service team, teachers, and students to identify low-cost approaches to managing school food service programs that will provide healthier food to the district’s students. The partnership
among Mena Public Schools, UAMS, and five other Arkansas school districts is anticipated to last through at least 2026.

“Without these school partners, this work wouldn’t be possible,” said Dr. Christopher Long, an assistant professor in the Office of Community Health & Research. “Their willingness to participate in this project is invaluable, and with it, we hope to have
lasting effects on the accessibility and availability of healthy school meals across Arkansas and in rural schools across the U.S.”

Arkansas ranks 7th in the United States for childhood obesity, with more than 20% of Arkansas youth ages 10-17 reportedly obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children ages 2-18. Many of these empty calories come from soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. School food programs are a vital source of nutritious food for millions of children every day across the United States. Eating a healthier diet can help children perform better in
school and can greatly reduce their risk of developing several health issues, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, dental cavities, and more.

To learn more about the UAMS Office of Community Health & Research, visit