Obesity remains an important concern for the health of our children and our country. In fact, seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of childhood obesity are located in the South [i].
It is easier and more effective to prevent overweight and obesity — particularly focusing on helping every child maintain a healthy weight — than it is to reverse trends later. Starting in early childhood pays the biggest dividends, promoting good nutrition and physical activity, so they enter kindergarten at a healthy weight and establishing healthy habits for life.
That’s why the American Heart Association has launched #HealthyTrayLA - a policy initiative to ensure healthy snacks are available for purchase in Louisiana’s public schools.
“Competitive Foods” in Schools?
In December 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act became law, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods (referred to as competitive foods or smart snacks) sold on school campuses throughout the school day. The law strengthens local wellness policies by creating more accountability and better implementation; includes funding to help schools establish school gardens; and includes funding to help schools source local foods into their cafeterias. These provisions will help schools give children the jump start they need for long, healthy lives.
What about Louisiana’s Students?
With 21.1 percent of our children being classified as obese, Louisiana is ranked 4th out of the top 10 states with the highest rates of obesity among children aged 10 to 17 [i]. Louisiana’s future – its children – depends on strategic, comprehensive, sustainable policies and an improved environment to promote healthy lifestyles consisting of a nutritious diet and engagement in regular physical activities.
Children consume a significant proportion of their daily calories--up to 50 percent--at school. For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only meals they eat all day. Additionally, nearly half of all elementary school students, nearly three quarters of middle school students and nearly all high school students have access to competitive foods. Approximately 40 percent of children consume one or more competitive foods on a typical school day, with most of these being low-nutrient and energy dense foods.
The American Heart Association is committed to ensuring that states pass strong nutrition policies but also follow through and implement these policies. Parents want to know that their children’s snack and meal options at school are nutritious and support children’s health.
[i] “The State of Obesity: Obesity Policy Series”. September 2015. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. http://stateofobesity.org/files/stateofobesity2015.pdf