Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton Participates in Georgia School Nutrition Directors’ Conference
I just participated in a wonderful school nutrition conference in Athens, GA that ran from September 28-30. It was Georgia’s annual School Nutrition Directors’ Conference, and I found it to be very well organized and packed with important information.
I truly enjoyed meeting up with my friend Nancy Rice, Georgia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Division director, and her team of approximately 200 school nutrition directors, coordinators, nutrition specialists, trainers and state staff. They are doing some wonderful things in Georgia and I hope to be back soon to help them celebrate their achievements.
I spoke to them all about the importance of Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation currently moving through Congress. I identified key issues related to the Act and received a warm response from the audience.
During the three-day session, I had the opportunity to talk with many of these outstanding professionals about USDA’s nutrition priorities. Roughly one-third of American children are overweight or obese, and are at risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and other chronic obesity-related problems. Each year, we spend $147 billion on health care costs of obesity-related diseases. This epidemic also affects the nation’s security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.
All these directors are acutely aware that this epidemic is a threat to the continuing health and prosperity of our society and are committed to helping children change their diets and lifestyles so that they can grow up healthy and strong.
School meals are a critical tool to help children eat a nutritious diet and achieve a healthy weight. I emphasized to everyone that we are updating school meal standards to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and that we support the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative – her campaign to take action to raise a generation of kids to be healthy adults.
We also talked about the HealthierUS School Challenge, the centerpiece of the National School Lunch Program effort to promote “Let’s Move.” The Challenge is a voluntary national certification initiative that recognizes excellence in nutrition and physical activity in schools. It establishes rigorous standards for school food quality meal program participation, physical activity and nutrition education – the key components that make for healthy and active kids.
Our goal is to add 650 schools by the end of School Year 2010-11 and then 1000 more in each of the next two school years. Schools can be certified at the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Gold Award of Distinction level.
We must act now to make more improvements to the nation’s school nutrition environment. America is depending upon us. All the school nutrition directors that I talked to had this sense of urgency, and I have shared with all the directors at the conference the many ways we can work together as partners to help bring about a healthier America.