USDA highlights efforts to improve school meals and children's health
USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Julie Paradis recently highlighted the Barack Obama administration's priorities for improving school meals and the health of children across the nation during a roundtable discussion at the annual Child and Adult Care Food Program National Professional Association Conference in Charleston. Paradis met with South Carolina State Agency Child Nutrition staff and emphasized the importance of renewing the Child Nutrition Act and advocated for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill to reduce hunger and improve the health and nutrition of our nation's children.
"USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to a strong reauthorization bill that enhances meal quality and improves program performance," said Paradis. "This year we have an unprecedented opportunity to make our programs stronger and more accessible to millions of children in need. We will continue to seek ways to increase enrollment and expand practices like direct certification, and we must do this not only for our children, but for the future of our country."
Improving the Child Nutrition Act is the legislative centerpiece of first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. The campaign has four primary tenets: helping parents make healthy family choices; serving healthier food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable food; and increasing physical activity of kids. Following the launch of Let's Move!, USDA and the First Lady called on stakeholders to double the number of schools participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge in the next year and to reach 3,000 within the next three years.
"Improving the nutrition and health of all Americans is a top priority for the Obama Administration," said Paradis. "With roughly one third of the children in America either overweight or obese, we know we have to come together to solve this critical program. South Carolina is doing a great job in encouraging good nutrition and physical activity, especially through the HealthierUS School Challenge, where they rank third in the nation in the number of certified schools."
Every five years, Congress considers improvements to the Child Nutrition Act. The Obama administration has proposed a historic investment of an additional $10 billion over 10 years starting in 2011 that will allow for the improvement of the quality of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, increase the number of kids participating, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make program changes, including training for school food service workers, upgraded kitchen equipment, and additional funding for meal reimbursements for schools that are enhancing nutrition and quality. Additionally, this investment will allow additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and fat free dairy products to be served in our school cafeterias and an additional one million students to be served the healthy school meals.
Already, the administration has announced its plans to improve school meals, a financing initiative to reduce food deserts, new research tools that detail local food environments and health outcomes. This includes grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence, and a broad range of public/private partnerships to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic.
In late March, the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up and reported out of committee the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to reauthorize and reform the child nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs. Today, Paradis outlined Administration's priorities for the Child Nutrition Act which include:
--Improve nutrition standards. Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards;
--Increase access to meal programs. Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications, and eliminate gap periods;
--Increase education about healthy eating. Providing parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality;
--Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools. Creating national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle, and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet;
--Serve more healthy food. Promoting increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low- and fat-free dairy products and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality;
--Increase physical activity. Strengthening school wellness policy implementation and promoting physical activity in schools;
--Train people who prepare school meals. Ensuring that child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers;
--Provide schools with better equipment. Helping schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals; and
--Enhance food safety. Expanding the current requirements of the food safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.
Paradis discussed these provisions at the roundtable and emphasized USDA's strong support of the president's request of $10 billion in additional funding.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.