Highlighting the state’s $4 million investment in school lunch and breakfast programs, Gov. Mark Dayton recently served breakfast to students at a Coon Rapids elementary school where nearly half of the students receive free or reduced meals. This is what we do in Minnesota — invest in our future, our children, especially those most in need. Children need both a healthy breakfast and lunch to be able to concentrate and learn while at school. Unfortunately, not all politicians see this connection.
While Minnesota is investing in children’s health and nutrition, Congress is debating whether to allow some schools to opt out of improved nutrition standards established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are in the process of advancing fiscal year 2015 agriculture spending bills that would roll back these standards. On behalf of kids across the country, I urge our entire Minnesota delegation to vote in support of an amendment to prevent this rollback. Here’s why.
In our state, nearly 37 percent of school-aged children are overweight or at risk for significant health issues because of weight. Overweight or obese children are at increased risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, type II diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and social and psychological problems during childhood. Because many children consume up to half of their daily calories in school, assuring nutritious school meals is key to promoting children’s health.
In Minnesota, 93 percent of schools already have met the updated nutrition standards established by HHFKA. These new lunches provide more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, as well as decreased sugar, fat and sodium. A recent study out of Harvard noted that children are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch since the updated standards — and these changes are not resulting in waste, as some suggest.
As a practicing pediatrician, I hear more and more about vegetables in school — and kids like them! As at least five fruits and vegetables per day are recommended, availability at school is key for children who may otherwise have limited access to them.
Unfortunately, if the House’s 2015 agriculture appropriations bill passes without the amendment offered by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Congress will roll back the progress made toward supporting healthier children under the HHFKA.
Additionally, the nutritional standards under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are at risk in the same bill. This year is the 40th anniversary of the WIC program, which serves more than half of all infants in the United States and which provides monthly food packages to vulnerable mothers and young children.
Unfortunately, the House bill includes language mandating that white potatoes be added to the WIC food package, marking the first time in the program’s history that members of Congress, rather than nutritional experts, intervened to determine which foods women, infants and children on WIC should receive. Strong scientific evidence has found that women and families on WIC already receive enough white potatoes in their diets. Allowing special interests to influence WIC undermines the program’s success and its ability to support healthy beginnings.
Feeding young bodies is key to supporting young minds. Strong nutrition standards are necessary to give kids a healthy start in life and a healthier future for all of us.
Dr. Anne Edwards is chair of the Committee on State Government Affairs for the American Academy of Pediatrics and chair of the Policy Committee of the academy’s Minnesota chapter.