It’s no secret that we’re currently facing a childhood obesity epidemic. According to the CDC, approximately 31.7% of children are either overweight or obese (BMI ≥ 85th percentile), and more specifically 17% are obese (BMI ≥ 95th percentile). That means almost one in three children is either overweight or obese!
This frightening reality led President Obama to take proactive measures. In 2010, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in order to reach out to more children by increasing accessibility to healthy, balanced, and nutritious school lunches. The number of students eligible to enroll in school meal programs was increased and the standards of quality of food served were improved. In addition, the Let’s Move campaign headed by Michelle Obama was launched. The premise behind this program was to get the entire community involved in encouraging and developing a healthier lifestyle for the children. Everyone – parents, schools, community leaders, elected officials, and the kids – has a role to play. Remember the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child?” Well, it couldn’t be more true in battling this epidemic.
Childhood obesity has serious implications. It increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases (such as hypertension and hypercholestrolemia), type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, fractures, deformities, depression, bullying, and low self-esteem.
One of the major ways the government strives to alleviate the current crisis is by funding the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which aims to serve nutritious, low-cost or free meals to students in public and non-profit private schools. In return, schools that meet the meal requirements are given federal funding to help provide these meals to students in need.
Even though school lunches have steadily improved over the last 15 years, anyone who’s taken a look at the food that is being served to students can testify that it’s still overly processed and laden with preservatives, sodium, sugar, and trans fats. The reason being, the schools are NOT complying with federal guidelines.
Beginning July 1, 2012, new nutrition standards will be implemented that schools participating in the NSLP and breakfast programs must follow. The standards are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Here’s a comparison between the present and the new requirements.Now, I know that this transition is going to be a long and gradual process, but it’s exciting to see that we’re heading in the right direction regarding the childhood obesity crisis. The government is encouraging more participation from schools across the country by reimbursing 6 cents per student to schools that meet the requirements starting October 1st. 6 cents may not seem like much, but multiply that by the number of students…you can do the math we’re talking millions of dollars!
The focus of this new change is to offer fruits and vegetables as two separate meal components everyday, increase whole grains (must be at least 1/2 of grains served), offer only fat free and low-fat milk, and reduce levels of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories. By 2014, all grains served must be whole grain rich.
I also love that the new rule gives children access to a variety of vegetables as it establishes minimum requirements from all subgroups rather than just lumping them all into one general category. Just a side of mashed potatoes won’t cut it anymore! I would LOVE to see children eating kale, mustard green, beets…It gets me so excited thinking about it!! And as far as meat goes, tofu and soy yogurt products will be credited as meat alternatives to meet the dietary needs of vegetarians and different cultural groups in schools.
A tremendous amount of school participation is anticipated this year due to the 6 cents compensation, which means astronomical numbers of new menus will be submitted, hoping for the government’s stamp of approval.
I’ve actually been given the incredible opportunity to be one of the reviewers for the state of Texas! Starting September, I’ll be working for the Texas Department of Agriculture as a contract worker to review and approve or reject menus submitted by participating schools. For schools that don’t pass, I’ll be advising them on the necessary changes. I’m going to make sure that NOTHING gets past me! Muhahaha…I don’t mind being someone’s worst nightmare in this instance . Oh man, I may be taking on a lot more than I can handle this fall, but how can I pass up this amazing experience?
So going back to what I said earlier, it takes a village to raise a child! An incredibly informative blog that I like to read is The Lunch Tray. Reading this blog really inspires me to be a part of the school food reform movement. The government cannot oversee every individual school, and therefore we all have a role to play in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic. So let’s be proactive and seek ways to help out in the community!
As a thank you for reading this long, wordy post, I leave you with a picture that’s bound to put a smile on your face. I know the picture is rather huge..but I couldn’t resist.
Remember my nephew Noah? He’s almost 6 mo. old now! His mommy did an incredible job breastfeeding him the entire time, and he has just recently been exposed to the wonderful world of solid foods . And what do you know? This lil’ bundle of joy loves just about everything! Avocado, sweet potato, butternut squash, peas..he’s not a picky eater (unlike his mother). Proper nutrition starts at home, and I’m so proud of my sister, a first-time mother, for being so fully devoted in helping Noah develop healthy food preferences.