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Changing the Way 650,000 Students Eat in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Unified School student enjoying tasty new meals.

Los Angeles Unified School student enjoying tasty new meals.

Cross posted from the Let’s Move blog:

The city of Los Angeles is known all around the world for Hollywood, Beverly Hills, celebrities as well as glitz and glamour.  There are more than 125,000 millionaires and more than 20 billionaires in this city I now call home.

But the reality is there is still a big discrepancy in quality of life between the elite and the majority of students I serve as food services director at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country.

Of the 650,000 students we serve daily, 80 percent qualifies for free and reduced meals, which means the students and their families live in circumstances of poverty.  In addition, 14,000 of our students are certified homeless with no fixed address.

The problem for many of these children is that the meal in school is often times the only source of nutrition available.  Many of them live in food deserts where the corner liquor store or the nearby fast food restaurant is the only place to purchase food.

The need to change the way students eat in Los Angeles was driven home due to alarming obesity rates from 2001-2008. There was almost a vertical incline in the rates of morbidly obese children.

As a result, our Former Board President Marlene Canter appeared in the Morgan Spurlock 2004 movie “Supersize Me,” sharing that we should be teaching children lifelong healthy learning habits and not feeding them “carnival food” like nachos and corndogs on a stick, consequently making them addicted to cheap, processed foods.

In 2002, the LAUSD Board of Education made a bold move by restricting access to carbonated beverages to students.  In 2004, the choices of snacks in schools were changed to healthier products and in 2005 came the “Cafeteria Reform” motion and “Obesity Prevention” motion, which restricted meal offerings.  Restrictions included no additives or preservatives, no artificial dyes and a focus on serving more fresh fruits and vegetables.

In 2012, the LAUSD Board of Education unanimously passed the “Improving Food and Nutrition Policy” and the “Good Food Procurement Resolution” led by Board Members Steven Zimmer, Monica Garcia and Nury Martinez.  These policies included local sourcing, animal welfare, farm and industry workers rights, as well as the elimination of any added sugars to any food service item by 2015.

To read more of the blog, please go to the Let’s Move blog.

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