Feds look to boost fruits and veggies while cutting starch and fats
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Just in time for the new school year, the Department of Agriculture is hoping to finalize new rules that require minimum amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in school meals while limiting fats and calories.
Health experts say the new standards will reduce health care costs stemming from health problems partly caused by low-quality school food, including the estimated $344 billion national cost of obesity costs through 2018.
Approximately one in three children is overweight or obese, and rising rates of Type II diabetes among children, along with other health problems such as hypertension, have some origin in the poor nutritional quality of food offered at public schools.
The proposed standards would significantly increase fruit and vegetables at lunch (one cup per day), require that they be served daily, require minimum amounts of dark green vegetables and place limits on starchy vegetables.
Whole grains, lean meats, lower fat milk, age-specific calorie limits, sodium limits and trans fat prohibitions are also part of the proposed standards. By requiring strong nutritional standards, the letter notes that the rule will help ensure that the government’s $12 billion annual investment in school meals is spent wisely.
A group of 36 lawmakers who have been working on this issue from the legislative side this week sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack supporting the new rules. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, who represents Summit County, was among the group. Polis has been working on school nutrition issues since he was elected.
“Children can’t focus and achieve in school on a poor diet any more than a Rockies player can perform at a high level while eating nothing but junk food,” Polis said. “The new school meals rule will ensure that children are eating better foods at school and are therefore more prepared to learn and are less likely to suffer from obesity and related illnesses. Healthier school meals are a smart investment in our children and will save us billions in health costs down the road.”
“We know that school meals are a nutritional safety net for millions of families, especially in this economy,” said California Congressman George Miller. “We also know that students who lack access to healthy meals have a harder time focusing in school. This important step forward by USDA will help ensure our schools continue to do their part in the fight to keep our kids healthy.”
“USDA is doing an excellent job of updating the school meal standards, which are currently 15 years out-of-date. The standards are not only grounded in science but are achievable, as has been shown by thousands of schools,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We applaud the members of Congress who are helping USDA bring such changes to all schools, as opposed to others who are wasting taxpayer dollars by working to require USDA to start the process over.”