School lunches under fire

Posted by: Mark Bullock - bio | email

WASHINGTON, DC (WSFA) - Just weeks before congress is set to take up the expired child nutrition act, there are new recommendations on how schools can make their meals more nutritious.

Health experts say new standards are needed to combat soaring rates of obesity and diabetes in children.

The National Institute of Medicine is proposing the sweeping changes to federally subsidized school meals. They include:

  • boosting fruit and vegetables and whole grain products
  • offering only skim and 1% milk
  • lowering sodium levels and fat intake
  • introducing maximum calorie guidelines in addition to the current minimum calorie guideline.

"We have to balance the program so that children who don't get enough food will be ensured to get enough food and guard against children getting too many calories," explained Mary Kay Fox, a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Government research shows since the 1970's, obesity rates among children have tripled. And experts say current school nutrition standards don't meet the government's overall dietary guidelines.

It's up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decide whether to implement the new nutritional recommendations. But the Institute of Medicine says schools do not have to wait for the USDA and congress to act.

"None of the recommendations are counter to current standards, so schools can start implementing them today," Fox said.

The only hurdle for schools may be cost. The proposed standards could increase breakfast prices by 20% and lunches by 4%.

In Alabama, each individual school system is responsible for its own breakfast and lunch menus. Many systems do offer healthy alternatives, but health experts say it's important for parents to educate their children about the food choices they make while at school.

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