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  Release No. 0190.10
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  USDA HIGHLIGHTS EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SCHOOL MEALS AND HEALTH OF NATION'S CHILDREN
  Under Secretary's Visit to California Emphasizes National Efforts to Promote Child Health and Nutrition
 

RIVERSIDE, Calif., April 16, 2010 - Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon today highlighted the Obama Administration's priorities for improving school meals and the health of children across the nation during the fifth anniversary of the nationally recognized Farmers' Market Salad Bar Program in Riverside. Concannon was honoring students and staff at Emerson Elementary School for their outstanding efforts in providing more healthy options in their school menus through a pilot farm to school salad bar program. He also emphasized the importance of renewing the Child Nutrition Act and advocated for a strong reauthorization bill to reduce hunger and improve the health and nutrition of our nation's children.

"USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to a strong reauthorization bill that enhances meal quality and improves program performance," said Under Secretary Concannon. "This year we have an unprecedented opportunity to make our programs stronger and more accessible to millions of children in need. We will continue to seek ways to increase enrollment and expand practices like direct certification, and we must do this not only for our children, but for the future of our country."

Improving the Child Nutrition Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. The campaign has four primary tenets: helping parents make healthy family choices, serving healthier food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable food; and increasing kids' physical activity. Already, the administration has announced its plans to improve school meals, a financing initiative to reduce food deserts, new research tools that detail local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence, and a broad range of public/private partnerships to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic. Learn more by visiting www.LetsMove.gov.

"The salad bar program at the Riverside Unified School District provides a unique opportunity for students to not only enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, but to also grow their own produce," added Concannon. "The partnership between schools, community, and government is essential to building healthy dietary behaviors for our nation's next generation."

As part of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, members from the USDA Farm to School Team will visit Riverside Unified School District. During their visit, the Team will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to learn about Riverside's farm to school efforts, including how the activities first began, the relationship between growers and the school district, what obstacles exist or were faced along the way, and the effects the activities have had on the school and the community.

Every five years, Congress considers improvements to the Child Nutrition Act. The Obama Administration has proposed a historic investment of an additional $10 billion over ten years starting in 2011 that will allow for the improvement of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, increase the number of kids participating, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make program changes, including training for school food service workers, upgraded kitchen equipment, and additional funding for meal reimbursements for schools that are enhancing nutrition and quality. Additionally, this investment will allow additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products to be served in our school cafeterias and an additional one million students to be served the healthy diets in school.

Already, the administration has announced its plans to improve school meals, a financing initiative to reduce food deserts, new research tools that detail local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence, and a broad range of public/private partnerships to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic.

USDA's priorities for the Child Nutrition Act include:

* Improve nutrition standards. Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards;

* Increase access to meal programs. Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications, and eliminate gap periods;

* Increase education about healthy eating. Providing parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality;

* Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools. Creating national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle, and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet;

* Serve more healthy food. Promoting increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality;

* Increase physical activity. Strengthening school wellness policy implementation and promoting physical activity in schools;

* Train people who prepare school meals. Ensuring that child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers;

* Provide schools with better equipment. Helping schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals.

* Enhance food safety. Expanding the current requirements of the food safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs, that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.

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