written by Violet Ruiz, Government Relations Director, Greater Los Angeles
The U.S. is in the midst of a full-blown obesity epidemic that has disproportionately affected our children. Currently, nearly one third of children are overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in children are staggering. Recent research shows that an obese child’s arteries can resemble those of a middle-aged adult and obese adolescents have an overwhelming chance of becoming obese adults. Students consume 35%-50% of their daily caloric intake at school, where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugary drinks that have little to no nutritional value. Schools can institute a healthy environment by promoting and proving nutritious meals.
In 2012, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect and for the first time in generations, the national school lunch, breakfast, and competitive foods nutrition standards were updated. We know that nutritious school foods are essential to heart health, teaching life-long healthy habits, and helping children perform better academically- and there is strong evidence that the new standards are making a difference. Yet there are some in Congress who want to turn back the clock and slow the progress in providing children healthy foods in schools.
During the month of August, You’re the Cure Advocates made special deliveries to legislators across the county in support of healthy school meals and snacks. Our message to Congress was that that healthy school meals ‘fit’ into a successful school day for kids- and we are ‘puzzled’ by efforts to weaken or delay the important nutrition standards. Advocates delivered over 70 puzzles, in which 4 puzzle pieces fit together to display a healthy school meal and 1 piece shows unhealthy food that doesn’t fit.
The USDA has reported that over 91% of schools are meeting the updated nutrition standards, up from just 14% of schools meeting the old standards in 2009-2010. This demonstrates that schools are willing and able to make these important changes. Experts also agree that the USDA is doing a good job in providing training and technical assistance to schools. They have been responsive to school food service feedback, adjusting guidance, and proving flexibility. Furthermore, Harvard researchers found the updated school meal(s) standards have led to increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Together we can take a stand and urge Congress to continue protecting healthy school meals. Kids are adjusting to the new meals and appropriate portion sizes. A healthy school environment helps improve children’s physical well-being, enhances learning, can minimize behavior problems, and increase attendance.
If you are interested in protecting healthy school nutrition standards in your community, please contact your local Government Relations Director for Volunteer opportunities. You can also call or write your local congressional legislator to take action now!
- Northern California – Brittni.Chicuata@heart.org
- Los Angeles/Ventura – Violet.Ruiz@heart.org
- Southern California – Erica.Phung@heart.org