WASHINGTON— The following is a statement from Jessica Donze Black, project director for the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project:
“We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for issuing final guidance to help schools across the country serve healthier meals to students. The updated nutrition standards for school meals are now in line with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government's evidence-based guidance to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases and decrease the prevalence of obesity.
“This means children will see more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on their cafeteria trays. Meals also will include more low-fat and nonfat dairy products, and less fat and sodium, and calorie levels will be appropriate for different age groups. Not only are these changes good for students, but they also give parents more assurance that schools support their efforts to provide healthy foods to their kids.
“The focus on improving school meals comes at a critical time for children's health. Nearly one in three adolescents in the United States today is overweight or obese, and young people increasingly suffer from diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. We know that reversing this trend will not be easy, and that action will be required on many fronts–not just in educational settings. But because many children consume more than half of their daily calories in school, making sure schools serve healthier foods is a good place to start. Healthy students also tend to do better in school, paving the way for a stronger economy through a better-prepared workforce and reduced healthcare costs.
“We look forward to seeing schools across the country prepare and serve more nutritious meals in the 2012-2013 school year. The new standards are strong, and local administrators can continue to make even more improvements on their own. Indeed, thousands of schools already are serving healthier meals and can demonstrate successful approaches. USDA's final nutrition guidance provides a road map for all schools to follow in their efforts to promote a healthy learning environment.”