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Meeting the Nutritional Needs of the Nation’s Schoolchildren

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.