Posted In: Uncategorized
By Amanda Litvinov
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was a huge step forward for childhood nutrition—new guidelines for school meals were implemented at the beginning of this school year, bringing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to every student’s tray.
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But these lower-fat, lower-sodium, healthier meals aren’t the only foods students have access to in a typical school. Foods and drinks sold in vending machines, cafeteria a la carte lines, school stores and at fundraisers—referred to as competitive foods because they compete with healthier full meals offered through the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs—are widely available and typically laden with fat and sugar.
There’s a lot that school employees and parents can do to advocate for higher standards for competitive foods. The NEA Health Information Network launched a new website last week called BagTheJunk.org, which provides resources that explain precisely what competitive foods are, how those foods contribute to childhood weight problems, and steps school employees can take to call for improving their nutritional quality.
Schools can play a major role in improving childhood nutrition, because on average, school-age children get 30-50 percent of their daily calories while at school.
Children who are seriously overweight are not only at greater risk for health problems, but also have a harder time excelling at school.
Research indicates that students who are obese suffer emotional harm that can hinder their performance on tests, make them more likely to repeat a grade, and are leave them less likely to go to college. Currently, 23.5 million children and teens in the United States are considered overweight or obese—that’s one in three young people.
The current standards in place for competitive foods haven’t been updated in more than 30 years—long before vending machines were a common site in schools. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires the Department of Agriculture update these standards, which is expected to happen in the first half of 2013.
Educators and concerned citizens can make a difference in their own schools by writing to their superintendent, testifying before their local school board and helping everyone they know understand the issues by posting information on social media.
Have you taken a stand for kids by advocating to replace junk food and sugary beverages with healthy choices? Share your story!