History was made Dec.13, 2010, when President Barack Obama signed into effect the Healthy, Hunger-Free Child Nutrition Act at a school in District of Columbia. The nutrition act would give our government more control over meals served in our nation’s schools. The bill, the first of its kind in 30 years, is designed to do the following: 1) improve nutrition, 2) focus on childhood obesity, 3) increase the number of children eligible for free or reduced price meals, 4) increase monitoring and accountability.
Childhood nutrition and obesity is a cause First Lady Michelle Obama has championed within the last year. With childhood overweight and obesity statistics revealing an alarming rise in obesity in youth ages 2-19, it is a cause of great concern in our nation. The lack of good nutrition in schools has been shown to affect student’s performance in the classroom.
Results found by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) showed a jump from 5% in 1976 to 10.4% in 2008 of overweight children ages 2-5. Children between the ages of six and 11 show an increase from 6.9% to 19.6%. Obesity in teenagers between the ages 12 to 19 jumped from 5% to 18.1%. The risks of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart problems are increased among children and adolescents who are overweight.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act gives the United States Department of Agriculture authority to set nutrition standards in schools and oversee the carrying out of those standards. Schools that meet required standards get additional funding. Local produce entities will be the go-to for vegetables served in the schools as well as gardens grown at the schools. The Act will seek to improve the quality of foods the USDA sends to schools. The Act will also serve to set standards for school wellness and physical education activities. In short, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act seeks to solve the problem of childhood overweight and obesity through proper diet and exercise in our schools. Schools will be required to pass information about child nutrition on to parents.
In the White House Blog, a sample menu is posted that compares foods served before and after the Act takes effect. Monday’s lunch menu before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act included a bean and cheese burrito with mozzarella, applesauce, orange juice and milk. Once the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act takes effect, Monday’s menu will include a submarine sandwich on a whole wheat roll, refried beans, jicama, green pepper strips, cantaloupe wedges, skim milk and low fat condiments.
At least with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, children in child care and our nation’s schools will have one nutritious meal five days a week during the school year. But is that enough? Educators and school professionals sit and eat with students who typically pick over the foods on their plates. Teachers encourage them to eat, but they can’t make them. Children don’t just bring lunches from home because they don’t qualify for free meals. They bring their own lunches because they don’t want what the cafeteria is serving. Often what teachers see in lunch boxes is equivalent to fast food or junk food. Unless the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act does something to change parents and students preferences in food at home, it is questionable as to whether there will be much change in obesity rates in our children.