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Team Up for School Nutrition Success

American Heart Association’s Nancy Brown and Executive Director of the Dallas Independent School District’s Food and Child Nutrition Services work with children at the Charles Rice Learning Center in their school garden

American Heart Association’s Nancy Brown and Executive Director of the Dallas Independent School District’s Food and Child Nutrition Services work with children at the Charles Rice Learning Center in their school garden. (Photo credit: Dallas Independent School District)

The following guest blog highlights the important work of our partner the American Heart Association. The association is a tireless advocate for supporting nutritious options in all environments, including the workplace, grocery stores, restaurants, and schools.  AHA recently participated in USDA’s Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative, connecting them with school nutrition professionals and other partners dedicated to supporting healthy habits in children that will last a lifetime.

By Kristy Anderson, Government Relations Manager, American Heart Association

It’s the number one killer of Americans and it costs the most to treat. Yet 80 percent of cardiovascular disease cases would disappear if we practiced a little prevention such as eating right and exercising more.

Prevention is absolutely essential when it comes to our kids. Right now one in three children in the U.S. are overweight and obese, and only about one percent meet the American Heart Association’s criteria for ideal heart health. Poor nutrition habits are putting children at risk for diabetes and fatty liver disease, and 90 percent of kids consume too much salt, which puts them at risk for hypertension – once thought to be an adult-only disease.

Because children develop eating habits early in life and many get 50 percent or more of their calories in schools, supporting nutritious school foods naturally fell in line with the American Heart Association’s mission: to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. I have had numerous association volunteer doctors and cardiologists tell me that we need to do something about the number of chronically ill children that come into their practices sick from the unhealthy foods they eat.

While healthy school food will not magically fix America’s childhood obesity epidemic overnight, we recognize it is most definitely a critical piece of the puzzle. That’s why the American Heart Association joined Team Up for School Nutrition Success as an allied organization.

We are proud to work on healthy foods from every angle, and our partnership with other Team Up organizations exposes us to new ideas from those who work every day to keep our kids healthy, which in turn encourages us to do even more. Once kids are out of school, they need to have access to healthy foods in other parts of their lives, which is why the association advocates for nutritious options in all environments, including the workplace, grocery stores, and restaurants.  

The association is hard at work in our nation’s schools, educating youth about heart-healthy habits overall through a variety of different programs, including Jump Rope for Heart, school gardens, playgrounds and CPR in schools. Our Voices for Healthy Kids initiative is on the ground in communities across the country, working on policies to make all environments healthier for young people. We have always been a strong proponent of science-based nutrition standards in schools, as well as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is the most seminal public health victory for this generation and those to come. Team Up for School Nutrition Success is a great way for us to connect all of the dots.

School food service directors and their staff are on the front lines of a massive – and long overdue – public health change. They are the motivators who make sure our children eat nutritious foods and develop healthy habits that will last for a lifetime. Team Up for School Nutrition Success provides an opportunity to share the science and evidence on why their work is so important, proving what they’re doing is much more than simply serving kids a meal at school.

Team Up has allowed us to meet these amazing change agents and learn about their triumphs and challenges on the ground. These critical lessons will help us be that much more successful when it comes to keeping our kids healthy.

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