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Secretary's Column: Another Step Forward Towards a Healthier Next Generation

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Initiatives Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017

This week at USDA, we took several steps forward in the fight for a healthier future for our nation’s children.

On Tuesday, we rolled out new proposed guidelines that will make sure only healthy foods and beverages are allowed to be marketed to kids at school. The new guidelines will ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices.

Parents, schools and food and beverage industry stakeholders are on board and have applauded the move as the right direction for our schools. As we move forward, we will continue to work side by side with them to implement the new guidelines.

We also released a report that reiterates the importance of community eligibility, which allows schools that serve predominantly low-income students to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students.

This helps to reduce the paperwork burden for administrators, and helps to ensure that kids can focus on learning and achieving at school, instead of their rumbling stomachs. Beginning next school year, more than 22,000 schools across the country will be eligible to participate, which could help as many as 9 million American children eat healthy meals at school.

We have also finalized the food package for our Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—commonly known as WIC—which helps to ensure that moms and young children have access to healthy food and nutrition and breastfeeding education during formative years. This program helps to start every American child on equal nutritional footing and gives them the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong.

Our announcements this week build on groundbreaking work happening across government to make healthy choices the norm.

The Food and Drug Administration this week announced major changes to the nutrition facts labels found on the back of more than 700,000 food products. The changes will make information about calories and serving sizes easier to find, read and understand.

The First Lady’s office teamed up with Boys & Girls Club of America, the National Recreation and Park Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America to announce a new commitment to provide healthy snacks and physical activity to 5 million kids that participate in after school programs.

I am pleased to be a part of the ever-building momentum towards healthier schools and healthier kids, and I am happy to say that we continue to see the fruits of our labor. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control released a new study that shows that over the past decade, the obesity rate among young kids ages 2 to 5 has declined by 43 percent.

That is impressive progress, and while I know that the changes we have made help, none of this would be possible without parents and caregivers. They make decisions each and every day in the best interests of their children—and we back them up.

They no longer have to worry about what their kids eat at school. Breakfast, lunch and snacks at school reinforce the nutrition lessons moms and dads teach at home. The school environment focuses on learning and achievement, without the distraction of unhealthy foods and mixed nutrition messages.

More than anything, collectively, we are giving our next generation the gift of health. Investing in good nutrition and healthy habits today helps our kids grow up to be the smart, strong, capable leaders of tomorrow.