For the first time in 15 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed new nutrition standards to make school meals healthier. They’re calling for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer calories and unhealthy fats. This is an extraordinary opportunity to improve the health of the nearly 32 million children who eat at least one school meal every day.
What would these changes mean? Students will see more red, orange and green vegetables—and fewer french fries—in the lunch line. They’ll be offered milk that’s lower in fat and has less sugar. And they’ll enjoy breads and rolls that are rich in whole grains and high in fiber.
Stronger nutrition standards for school meals are long overdue, and critical for reversing the epidemic of obesity that affects nearly one in three American children. While the new standards benefit all children who eat school meals, they are especially important for children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals. These are the same children who are at highest risk for obesity, and consequently, serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
We must act swiftly to ensure that the new standards are rigorous and to implement them as soon as possible. For this reason, the Foundation strongly supports USDA’s proposed timeline for putting new standards in place by the beginning of the 2012 school year.
We’re also collaborating with The Pew Charitable Trusts on the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a new initiative that will support efforts to improve the nutritional quality and safety of school foods. As part of that effort, we’re encouraging parents, caregivers, nutritionists, researchers and other advocates for children’s health to submit comments on the USDA’s proposed standards by April 13.
Our children deserve healthier choices at school to get the nutrients they need to grow, learn and succeed. Together, we can take this important step to protect their future.
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A.
President & CEO