First Lady Michelle Obama Fights for Healthy Kids Act
Mrs. Obama talks to Everyday Health about the importance of nutritional standards.
Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Joining the First Lady were American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. James Perrin and Sam Kass, executive director of the “Let’s Move!” initiative and senior advisor for nutrition.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Kass said. “Both in terms of the impact this can have on our children, and the precedent it’s setting for putting politics ahead of science.”
Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school cafeterias have to offer lunches that include whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and skim or low-fat milk. It limits the caloric value of meals to 850 for high school lunch and between 550 and 650 calories for elementary school lunch.
Dr. Perrin stressed the importance of “good nutrition early in life,” particularly in terms of what is served in schools. “One in six children live in hungry homes [and] much of their nutrition comes from what they get at school,” he said. He also pointed out that “children consume on average about half of their calories in school.”
Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support. But critics say the standards are too costly and difficult for some schools to meet. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), a major supporter of the Act, is asking that schools be permitted to opt out of the requirements.
“I find myself surprised that we’re here,” Mrs. Obama said. “Just a few years ago, everybody was around the table celebrating this victory…that school nutrition standards had been improved for the first time in 30 years.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 90 percent of schools are meeting the updated nutrition standards and participation is increasing in many parts of the country.
“You think of any project [where] you reach 90 percent success or completion. Would you ever think, well, let's just stop now and start all over again because we have 10 percent left to do?” Mrs. Obama said. “That's where we are right now, and that's just unacceptable."
Another concern has been that the revised nutritional standards might result in plate waste, as children reject healthier meal options. However, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that plate waste had not increased as a result of the standards.
“We’re not even thinking about the possibility of rolling back because we can’t afford for that to happen,” Mrs. Obama said. “We want to make sure everyone is informed about what is actually being proposed.”