Friday, January 14, 2011

Vilsack Blogs About School Nutrition Standards

On Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (l) unveiled proposed new federal nutrition standards for school meals served as part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. In his first-ever post on the official Let's Move! blog, Vilsack gives an overview of the standards and explains why these are crucial for childrens' health.

"It’s no coincidence that these updated meal requirements complement First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let's Move! initiative, which among other goals, is designed to end childhood obesity within a generation," Vilsack writes.

The new guidelines are the first of a series of rules that will be issued as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, legislation that both Mrs. Obama and President Obama championed for months. Yesterday, ObFo was on a conference call with Vilsack as he spoke about the proposed new standards; read the post here. (Above: Vilsack at the April, 2010 Spring Planting of the First Lady's White House Kitchen Garden, where he led the kids in cheers of 'Yay Broccoli! Yay Tomatoes!')

Sec. Vilsack's full blog post:

Meeting the Nutritional Needs of the Nation's Schoolchildren
Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on January 13, 2011

Ensuring our nation’s schoolchildren have the necessary nutrition to learn, grow, and thrive is commitment that we take very seriously at U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On the heels of the historic passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, USDA has now released a proposed rule to enhance the quality of school meals by requiring more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk in our national school meals programs. In addition to these healthy offerings, schools will have new standards to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories, and trans fats in those same meals.

As children now eat as many as two meals a day at school, it’s clear that the school food environment plays a more vital role in their health and welfare. The science-based recommendations are, in fact, consistent with an Institute of Medicine report on improving the health of children.

The proposal is expected to yield very positive results, with breakfasts and lunches that are higher in nutrients and lead to a healthy body weight for kids throughout the country. A comparison of the proposed nutrition standards can be viewed here.

Providing opportunities at school for better eating habits is a major step in the Obama Administration’s effort to combat childhood obesity. According to data, about a third of children between 6 and 19 are overweight are obese. And sadly, these children are more likely to have risk factors associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

As you can imagine, avoiding these scenarios for as many as possible is a must for a nation as prosperous as ours. It’s no coincidence that these updated meal requirements complement the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which among other goals, is designed to end childhood obesity within a generation.

We also recognize that the proposed changes may be as challenging as they are important. A dialogue with schools and communities about the new standards – and practical strategies to reach them – is a critical step in the process of making them a reality for our kids. So we look forward to hearing from our partners and the public during the 90 day comment period. After carefully considering these comments and suggestions, we will develop an implementing rule.

We look forward to your thoughts and ideas, almost as much as we look forward to a healthier next generation of Americans.

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Related: In December of 2010, the Secretary pledged in a letter to Congress that he will not ban bake sales from schools when he releases the final school nutrition guidelines. Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass and Sec. Vilsack explain the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. In December of 2010, Sesame Street muppet Elmo joined Kass in the White House kitchen to tout improved lunch standards (video).

Photo by EGK/ObamaFoodorama.com