FNS OP-Ed October 5, 2011
Contact: FNS Public Affairs
National School Lunch Week
Dr. Janey Thornton
USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services
During our celebration of National
School Lunch Week, millions of children will line up in cafeterias
across the country to eat school meals. This year, parents should be
encouraged that many more schools will be providing healthier options
that their kids want to eat.
School meals have come a very long way
over the years. So believe me when I say that the proposed nutrition
standards for school meals put forward by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture earlier this year as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free
Kids Act are a vast improvement over the status quo and long overdue.
The timing of our proposal could not be
more appropriate, particularly as the country faces an epidemic of
childhood obesity. Nearly 1 in 3 children are at risk for preventable
diseases like diabetes and heart disease due to overweight and obesity.
If left unaddressed, health experts tell us that our current generation
of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Alongside childhood obesity is the
problem of childhood hunger. During 2008, as many as 17 million
households in the United States, representing 33 million adults and 17
million children, struggled to put enough food on the table. For many of
these children, a school meal is the only nutritious source of food they
can count on.
As a dedicated mother and grandmother
who cares deeply for the health of not just my own family’s children,
but for the children of families throughout America, these issues
greatly concern me. And while government cannot solve this problem
alone, it makes good sense that the substantial taxpayer investment in
healthy school meals be part of the solution along with parents and
A comprehensive solution will require
bold action. We recognized that at USDA several years ago when we asked
the Institute of Medicine – a gold standard for scientific analysis – to
provide us with their recommendations for what healthy school meals
should look like. We used those expert recommendations as the basis for
our proposed nutrition standards for healthy school meals.
The result are science-based standards
which reflect the Dietary Guidelines by ensuring that kids get more of
the fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains that health
experts recommend, and less of the saturated fat, trans fats and sodium
that we all should avoid.
Many schools have already embraced this
new direction. In fact, 1,250 schools throughout the country have been
certified under USDA’s HealthierUS Schools Challenge (HUSSC). While the
proposed nutrition standards are bold, they are also achievable – so
achievable that USDA is committed to certifying 1,000 more HUSSC schools
this coming year, and another 1,000 the following year.
It is also worth noting that this
success is happening in these schools without additional meal
reimbursements from the Federal government. Surely, if so many HUSSC
schools can achieve real progress without extra money, the historic new
resources provided through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act should go a
long way towards making these improvements a reality for every school
that participates in the National School Lunch Program.
That said, we have heard from many
interested stakeholders who have voiced both support and concern for the
proposed standards. We have heard the concerns about cost, about
feasibility, and about specific foods.
We are listening to everyone and we know
that there is still work to do. Given the chance, we will be able to
fulfill our commitment to develop science-based nutrition standards that
are practical for schools and reinforce the healthy eating habits that
begin at home.
We have to stay the course. Change can
be challenging. But this change is as important as it is challenging.
The stakes are simply too great: school nutrition improvements are an
investment in our children’s future. We must not miss this opportunity
to provide the nutritious food and promote the healthier lifestyles our