Editorial: Revise Food Standards for Healthier Kids

Publication: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Author: Debra Haire-Joshu


09/28/2011 - It is not too often that both parties in Washington, D.C., join to support a common cause. But last year in an impressive display of bipartisanship, every member of the Senate united in favor of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. By unanimously passing this legislation to revise outdated nutrition standards for school meals, Congress took a giant step toward improving our children's nutrition, curbing our nation's growing obesity crisis and improving the well-being of our children.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress are playing politics at the expense of our nation's kids by undoing those important changes in order to please powerful D.C. lobbyists.

If the guidelines from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act are permitted to move forward, schools around the country will replace poor-nutrition meals with healthy options that feature more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Many of the changes simply echo the decisions parents try to make for their kids each day. Most of us wouldn't consider french fries a good option to serve our kids every day of the week. Unfortunately, under the outdated national school nutrition standards currently in place, many schools do just that — along with other high-sodium and high-fat foods.

In my role as director of the Center for Obesity Prevention and Policy Research at Washington University, I focus on interventions to reduce obesity and prevent diabetes, particularly among underserved families, so I understand what is at stake for our kids. As a researcher, educator and a parent of grown children, I believe that moderation is the key to healthy eating.

French fries, pizza and other kid favorites have a place in our lives but only as part of a diet that includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in order for kids to maintain a healthy weight. The guidelines that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act are designed to ensure exactly that type of moderation.

Not surprisingly, lobbyists for the potato industry disagree. Right now, 75 percent of the vegetables in school lunches are fries or other starchy vegetables — with fries number one in school lunches across the country. The lobbyists would like to keep it that way. They are pushing hard for Congress to undo USDA's proposed guidelines in the hopes of crowding out other nutritious vegetables.

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Read the full guest commentary, Revise Food Standards for Healthier Kids on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Web site.  

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