The foods and beverages available in schools have a big impact on children’s diets and weight. In addition to their breakfast and lunch meals, nearly all students can buy foods and beverages from school stores or vending machines. These snacks compete with the nutritious school meals for students’ spending. With students consuming up to half of their daily calories at school, it’s important they have nutritious school snacks and drinks available.
That’s why the American Heart Association is urging the Louisiana Legislature to support House Bill 208, #HealthyTrayLA, during the 2017 legislative session.
What Would House Bill 208 Do? The bill would update the 2005 Louisiana policy to follow the current nutritional guidelines set forth by the USDA relating to foods and beverages sold in schools to students during the school day. It’s that simple.
Here’s some history. The USDA last updated snack and a la carte food standards in 1979. Because nutrition science and school environments have changed ― and childhood obesity rates have increased since then ― Congress directed USDA to update the standards as part of the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The USDA finalized its standards in July 2016 and required schools to meet the standard by September 27, 2016.
Louisiana adopted nutritional standards for competitive foods in 2005 and in a few areas, we are stronger than the federal policy, but we still have a lot of work to do.
The USDA recognized the problem for what it is ― an epidemic. If the nation fails to address the current obesity epidemic, the current generation of young people may be the first in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. It is no surprise 7 out of 10 states with the highest rates of childhood obesity are in the South. With Louisiana ranked #4, forty percent of our children are overweight or obese.
Ethical Obligation? Many critics of this legislation cite a decline in school revenue attributed to healthy snack policies. Recent studies have found higher participation in the federal reimbursable breakfast and lunch programs after schools implement Smart Snacks policies. Higher participation equates to more revenue kept in schools.
But what’s even more important is higher participation among students in free or reduced lunch programs. For these students, the school meal may be the only meal the family can afford to feed the child the entire day. In the 2013-14 school year, a whopping 66.8% of Louisiana’s students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. Let that sink in ― that’s 463,617 students that potentially need a nutritional meal because they might not have been able to get one at home.
The mission of schools is broader than simply teaching academic skills. Schools have long accepted responsibility for supporting the health of their students, for example, by requiring immunizations, providing health screenings and by offering meal programs that support their students’ nutritional health.