Public health celebrated a major victory when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law in 2010. For the first time in a generation, the nutrition standards for foods served in schools were updated to reflect the latest nutrition science. Given that most children get 50 percent or more of their calories in schools, making sure these foods are healthy is critical to their health and well-being.
But then special interests stepped in and started chipping away at the law.
It all started less than a year after the bill was signed, when Congress made it law that the tomato sauce on a pizza got to count toward a serving of vegetables under the new standards. That’s right – Congress legally declared that pizza was a vegetable. Other attempts have been made since then, and 2014 was no different.
Incredibly, Congress decided late last year that there wasn’t enough evidence that sodium needed to be reduced in school foods. They ignored the fact that the sodium standards were based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and despite the fact that high blood pressure – once mostly an adult problem – is now becoming more of a problem in children.
They decided this despite the numerous medical, health, and nutrition experts who have called for lowering salt in children’s diets. They decided this despite the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that 9 in 10 children eat too much salt. According to the CDC, if kids have elevated blood pressure at a young age, it often leads to high blood pressure in adulthood and is linked to early development of heart disease and risk for premature death.
But we can’t give up. Our biggest challenge is coming up fast and we’ve got to be ready.
In 2015, the law that sets the standards for foods in schools will be up for consideration again. It is vitally important that everyone in this community rally and protect the sodium standards (among other nutrition standards) from further erosion.
We will be calling on you later in the year to contact your members of Congress and ask them not to turn their backs on children’s health and help them grow into healthy, strong adults.
-Kristy Anderson, Government Relations Manager for Prevention, American Heart Association