I was about to go to bed last night when I decided to check the blog of Marion Nestle, a well known nutrition expert, to get the latest food policy news. I was caught off guard when I saw this title, “Let’s Move! announces universal school meals!”. I checked the links, as well as the USDA website, for confirmation of the news. Sure enough, the bottom of a USDA news release confirmed the news. A recently completed school meals pilot project was going to be implemented nationwide starting July 1st of this year.
To summarize what happened, schools with 40% or more of their students receiving free school meals will be able to serve free meals to all students enrolled at that school. The costs of paying for the extra students will be cancelled out by reduced paperwork and eligibility verification costs by using current data from the SNAP and TANF programs to enroll students in the free school meals program. This implementation is good, because it reduces negative stigma at school for the children who are eligible for the free meals, and also allows more children access to good nutrition.
What is that I heard? School meals are nutritious? There is an announcement on that too this week! Ninety percent of schools have reported compliance with the new rules for school meals under the 2011 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Yes, the final parts of the Act were not perfect, as certain lawmakers wanted to count pizza sauce and potatoes as vegetables, but it also had a lot of great benefits, such as reducing the limit on sodium, increasing the amounts of whole grains served over refined grains, increasing the amounts of fruits and vegetables served, and setting standards on the types of vegetables to serve every week to get more nutritional variety, not to mention color and taste.
And that wasn’t all. I woke up this morning to the news that CDC researchers just produced a report showing a 43 percent decrease in obesity among two to five year old children. While the overall obesity rate stayed the same, it is positive news that things are changing for the better for our young children and future adults. Getting back to schools, new limits on advertising of unhealthy foods at schools and school sporting events was also announced, and should also help to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods and hopefully obesity rates as well.
The big news for us adults may come tomorrow, with an expected announcement regarding food labels. It’s about time that food labels are revamped to be easier to read. First of all, the type is small. For a person like me with 20/20 vision, the size is not a problem, but for many other people it may be difficult for them to read the nutrition label. Second, there is probably too much information on the label for all but us nutrition geeks.
Right now the hot thing in nutrition labeling is the front of the package label, and using a stop light system based on government nutrition guidelines so that consumers can easily identify foods high in things like calories, sugar, sodium or fat. The United Kingdom has already been working on a stop light system. Even Chile got into the act, implementing a system of colored warning labels that must be placed on foods high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar. While they are not perfect, it is progress. Let’s green light this process and give front-of-package food labeling regulations a go here in the United States!