Big voices in Washington have spoken out recently against members of Congress who wish to step back from changes made to school meal standards. Supporters of the new school lunch measures believe this criticism comes at a critical juncture, just as experts are beginning see the successes of the law.
At the time the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 passed, one-third of children in the United States were obese or at risk of being obese and 17 million were in food-insecure homes. As children consume one-third to half of daily calories at school, these meals were targeted as an opportunity to produce significant change in childhood health.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke with UPR and said major strides have been taken over the last four years to make calories from school meals a healthy diet addition.
“It’s important, I think, for us to recognize that we’re making progress, we’re heading down the right road and for good reasons, with medical and nutrition experts telling us what we need to do,” said Vilsack. “It’s important for our kids to have that be a long-term commitment, not at the first sign of difficulty take steps backwards and ultimately limit the effectiveness of the program.”
The new standards for school meals include reduced sodium, sugar and fat content and increased fruit, vegetable, low fat dairy and whole grain options.
Vilsack said there have been difficulties implementing the new standards with transition time and available products. He said it is a delicate balance maintaining effective flexibility with the new standards, while not stepping back from the commitment to make a real and lasting change.
“We are dealing with this in the right way—providing flexibility when it’s warranted, providing resources to help folks get over the hump, without necessarily taking a step back on the commitment we made to our children four years ago,” said Vilsack.
Vilsack advises parents and the public to be supportive of and patient with the adjustments. He said continued progress in the area of childhood nutrition is necessary for children to perform well in school, ensure future economic security and decrease health issues and care costs as adults.
Vilsack said this generational change will take time and warns congress to not back down.