Monday, August 15, 2011

Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign Hits Milestone With HealthierUS School Challenge

1,250 schools are now certified in program; USDA gives update on child nutrition legislation for 2011-2012 school year...
First Lady Michelle Obama's
Let's Move! campaign has met her Phase II goal of getting 1,250 schools certified in the HealthierUS School Challenge, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon announced today during a conference call. The national program, run by USDA, is one of the cornerstones of Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity campaign, and rewards schools participating in the National School Lunch Program for voluntarily adopting USDA standards for foods served in cafeterias, and for providing students with nutrition education and opportunities for physical activity. Concannon also discussed the nutrition reforms and improvements that students and families will see in the 2011-2012 school year, thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, which President Obama signed into law in December of 2010. (Above: In September of 2010, Mrs. Obama spoke at Brock Elementary School in Slidell, LA, and announced the HUSC goal of 1,250 schools)

How the HUSC goal was met...
Mrs. Obama worked hard to meet the 1,250 goal for the Challenge, promoting it each time she made a public appearance for Let's Move!. There's been a lot of action over the last eight months: As of February 2011, just 552 schools had received HUSC certification. In March, Mrs. Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Domestic Policy Chair Melody Barnes spoke on a White House conference call with about 260 school officials from across the US, to encourage participation in the Challenge. (Above: Mrs. Obama on the conference call, flanked by Barnes, l, and Duncan)

Vilsack also announced $5.5 million in Team Nutrition Training Grants for Healthy Meals to provide assistance to schools to help them meet Challenge requirements. By June 8, 2011, 1,220 schools were certified, according to USDA. Schools are recognized with the Gold Award of Distinction, Gold, Silver, or Bronze-level certification, and receive cash awards based on their level of certification. Clearly, the effort worked. During her conference call, Mrs. Obama also promised school officials and cafeteria managers a White House party if the HUSC goal was met; in fact, there was a reception scheduled for July 29, but it was cancelled, and has been re-scheuduled for mid-October, Concannon said today.

Concannon also announced the launch of the Healthy Access Locator, a web-based map that geographically pinpoints HUSC award-winning schools, and allows users to search HealthierUS School Challenge awards by geography (national, regional, local), school type (elementary, middle, high), award type (bronze, silver, gold, gold award of distinction) and date of award. It also features built-in data on diet-related diseases.

School food environments have big changes thanks to new child nutrition legislation...
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Congress passed after much lobbying from the First Lady and the White House, is another pillar of Mrs. Obama's campaign. Concannon today hailed it as "a great win for our kids and the health of our nation."

"By fueling our nation's children with the healthiest foods possible while at school, we can reinforce the healthy lifestyles that many parents are already teaching their children at home, which will put them in a position to thrive, grow and ultimately reach their full potential."

USDA worked aggressively to implement reforms contained in the legislation, which includes a component that allows the Secretary of Agriculture for the first time to set uniform standards for school meals. Concannon said that USDA officials have finished going through the 132,000 public comments the Agency received for the proposed revamp of school meal standards, and has compiled these into a 150-page summary that is an internal USDA document. The Administration hopes to finish the rule, as well as a rule for other foods sold at schools (such as in vending machines), before the end of this year, Concannon said. The rules are supposed to go into effect at the beginning of the school year starting September, 2012.

A rule requiring schools to bring the price of school meals for middle-class children in line with food prices has already gone into effect, Concannon said.

USDA released the following updates on its changes under the new legislation:

*Nationwide Expansion of At-Risk Afterschool Meals: USDA worked closely with states to expand the availability of afterschool meals across the nation to through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. USDA estimates this expansion could provide supper to an additional 140,000 kids in low-income areas.

*Strengthening Direct Certification: USDA provided guidance, technical assistance and grant funding to states to improve their direct certification systems to help more children already receiving benefits from SNAP, TANF and FDPIR gain access to free school meals without the need for completing another eligibility form.

*Implementing Community Eligibility: USDA offered, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, to implement the new "community eligibility" approach to reimburse schools for meals without the need for paper applications.

*Simplified Area Eligibility for Family Day Care Homes: USDA implemented a provision that helps more family day care home providers receive the maximum meal reimbursement based on the location of their family day care business rather than an income eligibility application.

*Promoting School Breakfast Programs. USDA provided guidance for schools on the HHKFA provision requiring schools to conduct outreach on the availability of the School Breakfast Program. Research has shown that starting the day with a nutritious breakfast helps students stay alert and perform better in school.

*Top photo by Samantha Appleton/White House; conference call photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House