Washington, DC, May 6, 2015 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the following statement today after USDA's Food and Nutrition Service issued new data showing that 95 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated meal standards made possible by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010:
"Updated healthy school meal standards were created based on the expert advice of pediatricians and nutrition experts and are being widely embraced by students, parents, educators, and nutrition professionals. We are very encouraged that 95 percent of schools are now successfully providing more nutritious meals to their students. We are working with schools to provide funding, training, and flexibility so that 100 percent of schools will be able to successfully serve children healthier meals. Now that we are so close to the finish line, it would be unwise to roll back healthy meal standards just as they are beginning to work to ensure our kids have access to the balanced, nutritious food doctors recommend."
Thanks to updated nutrition standards, the vast majority of young people are welcomed each school day to an environment that supports their health and wellbeing as well as their minds. Students are growing more accustomed to the updated standards and are eating healthier. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found widespread acceptance of the healthier meals by students, while studies by the University of Connecticut and Harvard found that more students are choosing to add fruit to their lunch tray, are consuming more fruit and vegetables and that plate waste in schools has not increased.
As expected, the majority of American parents are also embracing healthier meals in school. Researchers found that 72 percent of parents favor national standards for meals, and 80 percent support healthier snacks. Just this week, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that most parents in Kansas support healthier school lunches, and 95 percent felt nutritious meals were so important in helping students learn that public schools should be required to serve a fruit or vegetable with each meal. As one food service director from Kansas to the Journal, "We're teaching children to lead a healthy life." Almost 99 percent of schools in Kansas are meeting the new meal standards.
Numerous prestigious medical groups have voiced their support for the healthier meal standards, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association. Retired Generals and Admirals from the group Mission: Readiness also support the healthier meals, viewing it as a national security issue because nearly one-third of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve.
USDA is committed to ensuring that the remaining 5 percent of schools get the tools they need to support the health of their students. In March, Secretary Vilsack announced the expansion of USDA's Team up for School Nutrition Success initiative, which provides tailored technical assistance and peer-to-peer mentoring to schools needing assistance. This month, we will host our third regional training session, providing these schools with the opportunity to learn from each other, in order to make positive strides toward creating health school environments, with financial stability and strong student participation.
Many food companies that supply snacks and other foods to schools have been able to use the stability of the nutrition standards to reformulate their products, resulting in healthier products available to schools. We are working alongside industry partners and members of the nutrition community to develop resources for those schools having difficulty with sodium and whole grain requirements.
USDA will continue to listen to stakeholders and provide guidance and assistance as needed to help schools continue their progress, because it is in the best interest of parents, the food industry, and most importantly, America's children.