Improved school nutrition

Keeping our Children Healthy.

Strengthening Science-Based Nutrition Standards for School Meals

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the twin epidemics of nutrition and food insecurity, and the economic downturn has likely increased the number of children who qualify for school meals.

Improved school nutrition is critical given that prior to the pandemic, one out of three children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years were overweight or obese, and we know that childhood obesity has worsened due to the pandemic.

While children attend school in person, they consume one-third to one-half of daily calories during the school day. We agree with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s remarks at the Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing on February 2, 2021, highlighting both food and nutrition insecurity, “…that causes millions—especially people of color—to cope with obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.” Congress must ensure that children’s nutritional needs are met so that all children have the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. 

Thanks to the 2012 updated school nutrition standards empowered by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), schools are providing children with healthier school meals, snacks, and beverages. These improvements are an amazing success story and one of the most important public health achievements in a generation.

Looking ahead, the next reauthorization must not only protect the current standards but empower USDA to update the standards to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and provide resources to help schools successfully transition back to following the evidence-based meal pattern after the pandemic. 

Schools currently must meet the 2012 school nutrition standards (77 FR 4088, January 26, 2012). However, the rule is now outdated with the latest nutrition science. Schools can currently take meal pattern waivers if they are experiencing hardships due to the pandemic, but children will be returning to in-person learning in the next few months – if they are not back already. School meal nutrition standards are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the existing standards are out of date on sodium, whole grains, and added sugars.

The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition looks forward to working with the people of North Dakota to ensure that our delegates to the Senate and House work to ensure high nutrition standards in our schools.

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