I can’t say I have particularly fond memories of the daily offerings in my grade school’s cafeteria. Of course that was more moons ago than I care to remember. School lunches have come a long way from the limp American Chop Suey of my youth.
And now we in the nutrition community have another milestone to celebrate: President Obama signed into law new regulations governing what can be served for school lunches (and breakfasts). These changes are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by The First Lady, Michelle Obama.
The law falls under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture, which was charged with fleshing out how the regulations will be enacted in the schools.
The changes are based on a review of the latest evidence for childhood nutrition by the Institute of Medicine’s panel of experts as well as the recommendations derived from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines are the government’s paradigm for nutrition policy. .
The rules make significant strides in bringing the food served to our young people more in line with our government’s public health messages regarding healthy nutrition for the American People. The guidelines require school food programs to:
–Offer both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
–Substantially increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods
–Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties
–Limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size
–Increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium
Overall the Department of Agriculture regulations have received favorable reviews from a wide variety of sources including nutrition, health and child advocates at the national, state and local levels; school districts/boards and staff; teachers; nutritionists/dietitians; community organizations; parents and students.
The new regulations become effective March 26, 2012 and schools must begin compliance by July of this year. The majority of the changes will be phased in over a three-year period to give the schools time to comply.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States: More than one third of children were classified as obese or overweight in 2008. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. And obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children and adolescents in our country. Children with type 2 diabetes are usually between 10 and 19, tend to be obese, have a family history of diabetes, and have significant insulin resistance.
School meals are only one source of the nutrition and nutrition education children receive. What’s practiced at home is equally if not more important in providing our nation’s youth with their best shot at avoiding one of the most devastating and largely preventable diseases of the 21stcentury.