Recommendation to the Next Administration: Healthy School Food

November 03, 2016

The next President of the United States has the opportunity to play a powerful role in creating the conditions of student health in our nation’s schools and giving all children a chance for a healthy, brighter tomorrow. Healthy Schools Campaign has released our recommendations for the next administration on supporting school health. Today, we are featuring the fourth of these recommendations. We invite you to read HSC’s full set of recommendations.

Healthy Schools Campaign calls on the next administration to ensure that every student has access to nutritious and appealing school meals.

This work is critical given the prevalence of both hunger and obesity among students, particularly among low-income students of color.

Hunger impairs concentration and cognitive ability, thus interfering with students’ ability to learn, and results in physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches that cause children to miss class time. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 16.7 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.

At the same time, increases in childhood obesity have been well documented and well publicized. Obesity puts children and adolescents at risk for developing diseases and health conditions that hinder their quality of life and can follow them into adulthood.

Schools play a critical role in addressing this dual challenge by providing regular access to healthy school breakfasts and lunches through the federal school meal program, with more than 30 million children participating in the USDA National School Lunch Program and 12 million participating in the USDA School Breakfast Program.

Healthy school food also directly supports academics: A vast body of research shows that improved nutrition in schools can lead to increased focus and attention, improved test scores, better classroom behavior and a better understanding of healthy eating behaviors.

In addition to supporting student health and achievement, school food is an important lever for food system change. School breakfast and lunch constitute a $16.8 billion federally funded program. The use of public dollars to support this program creates an important opportunity for a policy discussion around nutrition standards, procurement and food systems.

The Child Nutrition Act, which authorizes our nation’s school food program, was most recently reauthorized as the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This law required the school meal programs to establish updated nutrition standards that align with U.S. Dietary Guidelines, expanded access to meals in communities with a high percentage of low-income students and made other changes to support a healthy school food environment. In addition, the USDA established professional standards for school food professionals. It will be key for the next administration to support and build on these important steps.

HSC recommends that the next administration:

  • Fully support the effort to provide healthy, nutritious school food to all children by implementing the Child Nutrition Act and continuing to build public and political support for a strong meal program.
  • Support local sustainable food systems and ensure they’re linked with schools.
  • Invest in high-quality professional development and training for school food service workers.

We invite you to read HSC’s full analysis and recommendations for the next administration.