Congress: Don’t Trade Student Health for Political Gain

May 19, 2014

Please oppose any efforts to weaken our school food programs

In November 2011, Congress decided that the pizza sauce used in schools would count as a vegetable . As crazy as it sounded, not only did it pass, it set a dangerous precedent. One where a minority of congressional members could overrule years of nutritional science, trading kids’ health for political gain.

Fast forward to May 2014, a few short months before the new Smart Snacks in Schools standards and updated whole-grain and sodium requirements [pdf] are to be implemented in schools across the country, and it looks like the same folks in Congress once again are angling to play the role of supreme nutritionist for our nation’s kids — placing politics in front of children’s health.

Let’s get a few things straight. One in three children in our country is overweight or obese. With many students consuming up to half their calories in schools, improving the quality of school food is critical to improving the health of our kids.

Currently, more than 90 percent of schools are implementing the new school nutrition standards [pdf]. This is a huge win for student health, and it shows that, despite the real challenges in providing healthy food, it can be and is being done by schools across the country. Many naysayers claimed schools couldn’t do it, but schools are adapting and the market is creating products to support these efforts. While the 2015 sodium and whole-grain targets will be a challenge, it’s one we know schools can achieve. We also know that nutrition standards set for lunch, breakfast and snacks are based on years of nutritional research supported by the Institute of Medicine, and received comments and revisions through a public process that engaged hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite these positive efforts, we expect that as soon as Tuesday, May 20, members of Congress will attempt to gut school nutrition standards through the budgeting process. They may present it with a smiling face by saying we need to add greater “flexibility” or we need to ensure there is “market availability.” However, the end result will be the same — recent gains made in increasing vegetables, reducing sodium and adding whole grains could be eliminated by threats to withhold much-needed money for schools.

In short, this is terrible public policy.

We urge you to tell our political leaders that this is unconscionable. As parents, citizens and taxpayers, we need to confront our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic and ensure a healthier generation by supporting healthy school food. The game that Congress is playing with our children’s health needs to end, and we all need to take a stand to oppose any efforts to weaken our school food programs.

Please join our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest by signing their petition demanding healthy school food for our kids.