5 Reasons I’m Optimistic about Child Nutrition in America

First Lady Michelle Obama has done more for childhood nutrition in the past month than food advocates have seen in years! With the recent anniversary of her Let’s Move campaign, a slew of positive legislation is being pushed through with lots of help from the First Lady. But the folks in Washington aren’t the only ones prioritizing childhood nutrition. Below are signs from all across the country that the food landscape for kids is turning a corner.

FLOTUS

Image via Obama Foodorama

1. Universal Free Meals: Schools can opt to offer universal free meals to all students, regardless of income, at schools in which at least 40% of students are eligible for free meals through the National School Lunch Program. In schools that have at least 65% of students eligible for free meals, the universal free model is actually cost neutral! This program puts an end to the stigma of being eligible for free meals, students being turned away from lack of funds, and the burdensome paperwork associated with the tiered system.

DC central Kitchen

Lunch in DC public schools: Chicken Quesadilla on Whole Wheat Tortilla, Black Beans, Salsa, Local Apple & Milk, by DC Central Kitchen (image via CSPI)

2. Limit on junk food marketing: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Michelle Obama to announce the USDA’s proposed rule for School Wellness policy, which includes a first-ever component that bans unhealthy marketing on school grounds. This means phasing out on-campus advertising of soda and junk food on scoreboards, vending machines, menu posters, cups and plates, and more. What is considered junk food? The proposal uses the same guidelines in USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rule, which includes limits on total calories, sugar, salt and fat, and requires healthier ingredients, like whole grain and low-fat dairy.

Fruit selection

Self-serve fruit at Ashland public schools in MA (image via CSPI)

3. Healthy food marketing gets a boost: Vegetable companies (including Bird’s Eye and Bolthouse Farms) are venturing into the healthy food marketing by using tactics such as extreme ads (think Mountain Dew-style) and partnerships with Disney to tempt youngsters into eating their veggies. Additionally, the First Lady announced a commitment from Subway introducing their “pile on the veggies campaign”. This effort will focus on increasing consumption of fruits of vegetables among children, and will set nutrition parameters for what can be offered on the children’s menu. That being said, food companies (Subway included) can still be counted on to push unhealthy foods, but a targeted healthy food marketing campaign is a much needed step in the right direction.

Bolthouse Farms

Bolthouse Farms takes a cue from junk food purveyors in this ad for baby carrots (image via NPR)

4. Students eat more produce: A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found a 23% increase in fruit consumption and a 16% increase in vegetable consumption after the new school nutrition guidelines were introduced in 2012. Contrary to popular belief, the study did NOT find a corresponding increase in food waste.

Saint Paul lunch

Lunch from Saint Paul public schools (image via CSPI)

5. Obesity rates for young children may be dropping: According to a major federal health survey, obesity rates for 2-5 year olds have dropped by a whopping 43% in the past decade. While skeptics are wary that a drop this large is a statistical fluke, this potential drop is the first sign evidence that we may be turning a corner in the obesity epidemic. Let the public health efforts continue!

– Kelly

P.S. To learn more about the school lunch program, see here.

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