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Dumping the junk/New law will mean better nutrition for kids
By Margo Wootan and Scott Groginsky
By approving the bipartisan Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act (S 771 and HR 1363), members of Congress have an incredible opportunity right now to improve the health of schoolchildren across the country by getting soda and junk food out of America’s schools.
In fact, much of the food and beverage industry no longer oppose national legislation to do so. And while we respect that many aspects of school policy are determined primarily at the state or local level, leaving school foods to local control means continuing to rely on an outdated national standard that no longer makes sense.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition standards for foods sold out of vending machines, snack lines, and other foods sold outside of the school lunch program date back to the 1970s. They’re not in sync with current concerns about child nutrition and are out of step with current science. Under its disco-era standards, USDA doesn’t consider cookies, chocolate candy bars, sugary juice drinks, and Cheetos to be junk foods, since its standards don’t address calories, saturated fat, trans fat or sodium.
School food, unlike most other aspects of education, has long been regulated at the federal level, a heritage that dates back to the Truman administration. Down to the size of a vegetable serving and what type of milk has to be served, Congress and USDA set detailed standards for school lunches and breakfasts.
Another difference is that the federal government is the major funder of school foods, investing $10 billion a year in school lunches and breakfasts. Selling low-nutrition foods in schools undermines that taxpayer investment.
Schools won’t suffer
The ultimate source of local control is parents. Parents are fed up with junk food in schools; a recent Harris poll found that 88 percent don’t want sugary drinks and junk food sold in public schools.
Parents entrust schools with the care of their children during the school day. The sale of low-nutrition foods in schools, where children eat 30 percent to 50 percent of their calories on school days, makes it difficult for parents to ensure that their children are eating well. Without their parents’ knowledge, some children spend their lunch money on HoHos and sugary sports drinks from vending machines rather than on balanced school meals.
Some school administrators whine that ridding schools of sugary drinks and candy will devastate school budgets. But their worries are unfounded.
USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found “students will buy and consume healthful foods and beverages — and schools can make money from selling healthful options.” Their survey of 17 schools and school districts found that, after improving school foods, 12 schools and districts increased revenue and four reported no change. The one school district that initially lost money later saw its revenues increase and surpass previous levels.
While school vending contracts provide a discretionary source of funding for school administrators, they generate an average of just $18 per student per year for schools and/or school districts. An average school beverage contract provides only one-quarter of 1 percent of the average cost of a student’s education. Also, the money comes out of the pockets of children; it’s not a donation from beverage companies.
Why standards are needed
Establishing national nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold in schools would provide a valuable tool for school districts working to feed children well. The majority of the nation’s 14,000 school districts aren’t equipped to develop science-based nutrition standards for school foods — most don’t even have nutritionists on staff. If USDA sets science-based standards for school foods, then school districts can use them to select specific food and beverage items for sale in their district that will appeal to their students’ tastes and preferences.
Setting national nutrition standards for items sold in schools will ensure that students in all school districts receive the benefit of healthy food choices. If nutrition standards for school foods are left solely to local action, then schools and districts serving low-income students may have less-healthful food and beverage options than schools in more affluent areas. Fewer parents in low-income communities have the time, resources and empowerment to advocate for change in their children’s schools. As a result, health disparities might widen.
The threat of obesity
Changing USDA’s school nutrition standards will cost the federal government nothing, but not changing the current policy is costly. Obesity is one of the most pressing issues facing Colorado and the nation; one that costs Colorado $874 million a year, half of which is paid for by taxpayers through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Local school districts, individual states, the USDA and Congress all have important roles to play in addressing childhood obesity. Congress shouldn’t shirk its national responsibility by overemphasizing local duty. It shouldn’t pass the buck to local school districts, and leave them with the full burden to address childhood obesity and junk food in schools.
Margo Wootan is the nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. Scott Groginsky is the education initiatives director at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
I always question anything that comes from the Center of Science in the "Public Interest". It's a radical organization that is always attempting to legislate anything that it deems unhealthy for individuals, instead of encouraging personal responsibility. Another Nanny, looking out for it's children, aka society, in all the wrong ways.Posted by CSJ on September 12, 2007 09:45 AM
How about letting the children play on thier recess as well. Excercise never hurt anyone. Instead they children are told no tag, no dodge ball, no running. With physical education being eliminated or cut in schools, and the rise in time a child sits in front of a computer and television screen. It is no wonder that they are becoming obese.Posted by on September 12, 2007 05:22 AM
School lunches ARE regulated by the federal government. These two groups want to extend regulations to other areas of the school. What they are talking about here is the snacks in the cafeteria and the vending machines in schools.
Does anyone really think that the kids are going to spend money on vending machine carrot sticks when they can go across the street from school to the local 7/11? Or, for elementary kids, bring them in the lunch box, backpack, school bag or get them from another student? The next logical step, entirely in the interest of children too stupid to know the difference between good foods and bad ones, is to prohibit those foods on school property.
The kids know about nutrition and have the ability to buy or not buy. That ability is the target of this legislation. These two special interest nannies are more concerned that the schools are working with food businesses they disapprove of than they are about the kids. They seem to dislike any profit making business if you can judge from their press releases. Their unstated secondary goal here is to eliminate all business contributions to the schools in order to retain more control over the schools via the purse strings.
Parents will eventually have to trust that their kids have learned to make independent, good choices. Another layer of regulation does nothing to help kids learn and everything to hurt freedom and responsibility.
What these two meddlers really want is to gain power for their organizations and add regulations that will prohibit local schools from making the choice to accept money from some food businesses. Eventually they will try to ban certain products from the schools entirely. They’ve done it before. Remember the little girl suspended because a plastic picnic knife was accidentally left in her lunch box? That wasn’t part of the discussion until the regulation forbidding “weapons” was in place and the kid had the mark on her permanent record for “bringing a weapon to school.” Next on the agenda: Twinkies and HO HOS. Offense? Bringing a “forbidden substance” to school.
It only sounds ridiculous until it actually happens. Then it’s too late. Check out the web sites for these two organizations and make up your own mind. Let them tell you what they really want.
The responsible thing here is to let the schools handle it themselves and leave Washington lobbying groups out of it.Posted by momma y on September 9, 2007 04:19 PM
I think school lunches need to be regulated by the government. I also think more parents do need to step up to their children. However, parents can only go so far. Once the kids are out of site they may choose to follow their parents or go their own way. This is where school responsibility needs to step in and since the schools won't do it on their own the government needs to do it.
We need to remember a few things about government and people.
1) Where there are two or more people who enter into a relationship there exists a form of government.
2) Responsible laws are created when people stop making responsible decisions.
3) The government will always step in when people are too lazy to take responsible actions on there own and cry for help.
4) People will always complain that there is too much government but refuse to take the responsible action on their own.
This Speakout column contradicts itself; leave it to parents!
So is it Federal funds or taxpayers funds?
School is not daycare, parents need to take control!
I visited a school near Breckenridge that was built, in part, with monies from some brand name companies. The place reeked of vending machines and they weren't dispensing healthy foods. Even their brand new kitchen was no more than a distribution center for pizza, McBurgers and fries and other junk food provided by local fast food restaurants. The principal thought it was wonderful.
The problem with packing your kid's lunch is: you have no control over whether they eat it or not or whether they "supplement" their diet with junk. Schools should not serve, much less encourage, this kind of food and consumption of it. Of course, if the school doesn't have a closed campus policy, the kids will get their fix at the local convenience store but then it's not in the school's domain or control. Oh, and a Twinkie, once in a while, won't kill you.Posted by on September 8, 2007 04:14 PM
Hank, I agree. It seems the government is regulating everything now a days or at least trying to.
I think parents need to start parenting and stop counting on the government or the schools to do it.
I make my kids a nutritious lunch everyday. I am not a food Nazi. They go to the store and pick out what they would like to eat every week for lunches.
They hate the school lunches,so we pack our own.
You are right though ,it seems like everything in our life is eventually going to be regulated.It's total madness.Posted by Can I get an AMEN! on September 8, 2007 01:13 PM
The food Nazis are here, can the toilet paper Nazis be far behind? The next thing there will be federal government approved toilet paper regulations for the bath rooms--one square per wipe. Who the hell are these control freaks invading my life anyway? Who gave them permission, did they even ask? What about individual responsibility and accountability?
If the parents don't like school food, then let them get their lazy asses out of bed and pack a lunch for junior. The control Nazis need to beat it.
Posted by Hank on September 8, 2007 09:29 AM
Why we certainly must take over the snacks available in schools. What would become of our children if we were a country where people didn't grow up in rigidly controlled communities and faced daily situations where they had to learn to make their own choices?
Ah yes, the mantra, "We must protect the children." Thank goodness there are no such things as convenience stores and supermarkets where students can spend that money on non-government approved foods. Nor are there backpacks that allow them to smuggle contraband into the forbidden zones.
Is there no end to this silliness?
How about a unique solution? Let the local school boards, which we trust with the education of those same children, make their own choices based upon their own needs.
After all, Rural Short Change Public Schools might just need that little bit of money provided by the vending machines. I really doubt that a study comprising a whole 17 schools provided an adequate sample.
Unless you are going to suggest placing a "no 7/11 zone around schools the plan is merely window dressing on more federal interference in local schools along with another dose of governmental nanny-ism. Of course it could be beneficial. Imagine the lessons in capitalism the kids could learn selling "forbidden" snacks from their lockers. Of course CSIPI would then demand the schools set up indoctrination camps for such hard cases of independent thought and behavior. Twinkie sniffing dogs anyone?