Newspaper article Roll Call

Congress: Don't Turn Back the Clock on Healthy School Meals

Newspaper article Roll Call

Congress: Don't Turn Back the Clock on Healthy School Meals

Article excerpt

When it comes to obesity, my home state of Alabama is usually the bearer of bad news. Only 10 states have a higher childhood obesity rate than we do and only seven states have a higher rate among adults. Our rankings are even worse when we talk about causes of obesity and related health conditions - we have the highest rate of adult diabetes in the nation.

That's why I've dedicated my career to our kids' health. As director of child nutrition for Hoover City Schools - which serves about 14,000 students in the suburbs of Birmingham - I see firsthand the incredible potential schools have to set kids up for a good start in life and a healthy future; not just in the classroom but also in the cafeteria. Many kids consume up to half of their daily calories at school, and research shows that healthy school meals can help improve their diets and even reduce obesity.

In recent months, there's been a movement among some in Congress to backtrack from updated nutrition standards for school meals that were enacted as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. In particular, there's talk that an upcoming omnibus bill to fund the government might include a waiver that would let schools off the hook from having to comply with the healthier standards.

Our experience in Hoover has convinced me that a waiver would do our kids no favors.

Long before school meals started making national headlines, we rolled up our sleeves in Hoover City Schools and got to work. In 2007, our district joined the Department of Agriculture's HealthierUS School Challenge to transform our school environment. Whole grains and fresh fruits quickly became the rule for our lunch lines, not the exception. By the time the updated standards began taking effect in 2012, we were already close to meeting them. Today, we even offer our students unlimited vegetables within the regular meal price.

But we also realized early on that simply offering healthier options wasn't enough; we needed to make sure our staff was trained and our students were intrigued. To that end, we've implemented regular training sessions for our food service personnel. …

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