Back to School Food - Changes or Same Old Story?

It’s that time of year again, when parents can breathe a sigh of relief that their kids are well cared for during the day. But can parents trust that schools will protect their kids when it comes to how they are fed? If you’re like most parents, you’re probably more concerned with your child’s education than the vending machines lining the school hallways. Despite ample scientific evidence of the connection between good nutrition and strong academic performance, (not to mention good health) many schools continue to peddle high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed food and beverages to vulnerable kids.

While I wish I could say things will be difference this year, I remain skeptical. On the bright side, the federal government now requires that all schools participating in subsidized meals have a “local wellness policy” (including nutrition guidelines) in place by the start of the school year. Of course, this requirement was the result of a political compromise that in its ideal form would have had the federal government doing the dirty work of setting strong nutrition standards on so-called “competitive foods,” food sold through vending machines and elsewhere on school grounds. But instead, it’s up to the thousands of school districts around the country to draft individual policies. The good news is how this is causing at least some school administrators to pay attention, probably for the first time. However, there is no enforcement mechanism, meaning a school will suffer no consequences if they either don’t have a policy or fail to implement the one they drafted.

Already there are signs of weakness. Action for Healthy Kids recently released a survey of wellness policies in 112 districts across 42 states and found that only half met all of the minimum guidelines established by the federal law. Most troubling was the finding that 40% of the policies did not bother to specify who was responsible for implementation. It does little good to have words on paper without a plan of action.

And what about that Clinton Foundation deal with the soda companies? (Read my newsletter from May.) You know, the one that was supposed to get soda and other unhealthy beverages out of schools for good? Who exactly is holding the American Beverage Association and its member companies Coke et al, to that alleged agreement? Right, how could I forget, it was only a “voluntary” deal, so it was up to schools to renegotiate contracts with their local vendors. I am not holding my breath for that to happen.

What school food improvements will occur this year remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, many dedicated parents and others are still fighting for positive change. Will state legislatures once again become political battlegrounds? Will food and beverage lobbies continue to beat back well-meaning politicians and nutrition advocates? Will a pending federal bill to require USDA to update its feable nutrition standards pass against all odds? Will the local wellness policies prevail? Please share your own stories with me and I can post them here if you like. Email me at: Michele@informedeating.org.

 

 

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