The following guest blog highlights the important work of our partner the American Public Health Association (APHA). The association is a tireless advocate working to create the healthiest nation. APHA strives to reach that goal through science-based research, and education.
By Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
As kids across the country begin a new school year, they’ll be hitting the books to learn important skills to be successful later in life. They’ll also be visiting cafeterias, vending machines and school stores for the foods and beverages they need to fuel their growing bodies and for achieving academic success. With nearly one in three children overweight or obese, it’s critical that healthy meals are available to them throughout the school environment.
Schools play a unique role in improving child nutrition and instilling lifelong healthy behaviors in kids. Not only do students spend much of their daily lives at school, they consume up to one-half of their daily calories there as well. Many students consume breakfast, lunch and snacks at school. For kids from low-income families, who may have limited access to healthy foods, these school meals are often the most substantial nourishment they receive throughout the day.
We’re excited by the changes schools are already making to improve school meals. Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – which allowed USDA to update meal standards for school lunch and breakfast programs nationwide – major progress has been made in child nutrition. School meals now include lower-calorie foods, more nutritious fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and lower sugar, sodium and fat ingredients.
There is tremendous support for the new meal standards. To date, 95 percent of schools nationwide are meeting the standards. A study published in Childhood Obesity found that since the standards were implemented, students ate more fruit and threw away less of their entrees and vegetables than before the changes. And a recent national poll from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation shows that a majority of Americans support providing students with these healthier, well-balanced meals.
With the majority of schools meeting these standards and public support for better child nutrition running high, it’s critical that the standards be maintained to continue to strengthen the progress that’s been made. There are still a small percentage of schools that are not yet meeting the standards, and we must support them with the additional training, technical assistance and equipment they need to ensure that all children have access to healthy foods.
Investing in child nutrition programs gives our kids the best foundation to become healthy and productive adults. We must continue to pursue evidence-based policies like these for our kids, our schools and our communities in order to create the healthiest nation.