By Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS Secretary
Co-Authored by: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Every parent has dreams for their child. We want them to grow up strong and healthy. We tell them to dream big and work hard so that they can be anything they want to be. We want them to take the world by storm.
As parents, we lay the foundation for our children’s future success, but we know that we can’t do it alone. We rely on people like pediatricians, other health care providers, teachers and other school professionals to act as our proxies. We entrust them with the task of helping our kids grow up smart, strong and healthy because, as parents, we believe that they will make decisions in our children’s best interests. And that applies to what our children eat when they are away from home, especially at school.
The updated school meals standards introduced across the country in 2012 are undoubtedly improving the quality of school meals as well as the health and well-being of our children.
A handful of vocal critics will tell you otherwise — that school meals were better in the “old days.” But the old days are no longer acceptable, not when our children are battling an obesity epidemic that impacts the long-term health of the American people and, according to retired U.S. generals, threatens our national security by making almost one in three young adults unfit to serve in our nation’s military.
America has the second highest obesity rate in the world. The cost of treating obesity-related illnesses is a shocking $190.2 billion per year, dragging down our economy and increasing budget deficits. Updating the school meals with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods — and less fat, sugar and sodium — is the right thing to do for our kids. Doctors and other health care providers agree, which is why the healthier school meals were developed based on their recommendations.
The bottom line is that these meal standards were developed by our nation’s best doctors, nurses, dieticians and scientists — not our politicians. These medical and nutrition professionals know better than anyone that healthy options mean healthy kids, and later, healthy adults.
Some predicted that kids would reject healthy food and throw more food away, but a recent Harvard study showed that, thanks to the updated standards, kids are now eating 16% more vegetables and 23% more fruit at lunch. Another study, published earlier this month by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, reiterated that point, showing that kids are eating more of the healthy food and throwing less food away.
On school meals, parents and kids see eye to eye. A September 2014 survey by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that most parents (72%) support strong national nutrition standards for school meals. Another study, published last July in Childhood Obesity, found that 70% of middle school students and 63% of high school students like the school meals. As these studies show, the new school meals are a success.
Doctors and public health professionals know that healthier people are also better for our economy. Healthy people go to the doctor less and have fewer medical expenses, miss fewer days of school and work, and are more successful in the long run.
Over 90% of schools are meeting the updated guidelines, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is continuing to provide hundreds of millions of dollars, training and other support to help all schools successfully serve healthy food to our children. As Congress is turning its attention toward the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and some are seeking to modify or even roll back the healthier nutrition standards in schools, it’s worth remembering that these nutrition standards were passed through a bipartisan act of Congress and based on the expert opinions of health scientists and physicians. Any changes to these programs should be based on the science and recommendations of medical experts.
Anything less is just unacceptable.