According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of children are overweight or obese, which equates to nearly 25 million children. Obesity contributes to an increased risk of disease, including cardiovascular, diabetes, and cancer. Without taking action, children can have a lifetime battle with their health and ultimately a poor quality of life.
For the first time in 15 years, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed rule to revise the school nutrition standards, but will this improve child nutrition and lower obesity rates? Many say yes and I have to agree. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack states this is the “first major improvement we’ve seen in a generation, and it reflects the seriousness of the issue of obesity.” The new meal standards are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and will go into effect when the final rule is implemented.
On a daily basis in school, nearly 11 million children consume breakfast and nearly 32 million children consume lunch. The impact of these meals on children’s nutrition is significant since up to 50% of daily calories can be supplied at school. The proposed standards are aligned with scientific recommendations, including the 2005 ‘‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans” and the Institute of Medicine’s 2009 “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children.” A few highlights of the standards include:
- Establish calorie maximums and minimums for the meal based on the grade level. For example, lunch for kindergarten–5th grades has a range of 550–650 calories.
- Incorporate more nutrient rich foods into meals, including servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A serving of fruit must be offered daily at breakfast and lunch and two servings of vegetables must be offered daily at lunch. Half of whole grains will be whole grain rich (51%) and slowly increased to all whole grain rich.
- Reduction in sodium. Gradual reduction at intervals of 2, 4, and 10 years will be implemented. At the 10 year mark, sodium is reduced to 50% of current levels.
- Low-fat milk. Milk is required to be non-fat and low-fat only. Only non-fat can be flavored.
- Standards in Fat. Total fat should be 25–35% of calories and all foods are required to be 0 g trans fat per serving. Saturated fat remains the same at 10% of calories.
A child’s diet directly impacts their health. Parents should stand up and cheer our government for ensuring our children have access to nutritious meals. With the new nutrition standards, I believe we are not only teaching our kids good eating habits but leading them to a healthier future.
Director of Nutrition and Healthy Living
National Restaurant Association