WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2015—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today delivered remarks at the National Press Club encouraging Congress to act quickly to reauthorize a strong Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and support the ongoing success of the healthier meals now being served in schools across the country. Vilsack was joined by American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sandra Hassink, MD, FAAP, and Jessica Donze Black, director of child nutrition at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Below are excerpts from their remarks as delivered:
"It's important for Congress to find a way to provide for reauthorization without taking a step back, for Congress to continue the commitment that it made in 2010 to a brighter and better future for our children. And I'm confident if they are able to do that, if they're able to find a way to reauthorize, to provide additional resources, to do the right thing by this law, it [the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act] will do the right thing by our children. In turn, we'll have a generation of healthier and happier kids who will grow up—many of them will want to serve their country bravely and heroically around the world, others will contribute to a growing economy, and most will not be faced with chronic diseases that will cripple their ability to be productive."
Sandra Hassink, MD, FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics:
"I see children with obesity, have for 27 years, who have the health profiles of sick, middle-aged adults. They have high cholesterol, they have liver disease, they have sleep apnea, they have orthopedic problems, they have Type 2 diabetes. […] This is a nutritional problem that reaches down into our youngest children. And since children typically consume more than half of their calories at school, we really have an obligation to ensure that those school meals are as healthy as possible. Just like we vaccinate to prevent illness, we can also vaccinate against chronic disease by providing children with nutritious foods in schools."
Jessica Donze Black, director of child nutrition at the Pew Charitable Trusts:
"Child Nutrition Reauthorization provides a tremendous opportunity for Congress to continue to build on the recent progress and ensure that every child has access to the healthy food they need to learn and succeed. The nation's $16 billion annual investment in school meals is a crucial catalyst to help the next generation thrive and succeed while establishing healthy habits for a lifetime. Spending these taxpayer dollars on nutritious meals remains a wise investment in the future of our children and in that of our nation."
During his remarks, Vilsack addressed five myths about the healthier school meals:
Myth: Participation is down.
Fact: Total breakfast participation increased by 380,000 students from FY2013 to FY2014 and has increased by more than 3 million students since 2008. The Community Eligibility Provision under the HHFKA has been successfully implemented in over 14,000 schools and has led to substantially higher program participation – on average, a 9 percent increase in school breakfast participation and 5 percent increase in school lunch. USDA has also received reports from many schools indicating a positive response to healthier offerings and increased participation.
Myth: Serving healthy foods is too expensive.
Fact: A USDA analysis suggests that last year, schools saw a net nationwide increase in revenue from school lunches of approximately $450 million. Ninety-five percent of school districts are now meeting the standards and receiving an additional 6 cents reimbursement per meal. In addition, USDA has provided $90 million in additional resources to help states and schools implement the school nutrition standards—yet, $28 million of those resources remain unspent and available to states and schools who need them. And today, USDA announced more than $8 million in additional resources to help school nutrition professionals better prepare healthy meals for their students.
Myth: Food waste has increased under the new standards.
Fact: A study released in March 2015 by the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows that students are eating more nutritious foods and discarding less of their lunches under the healthier standards. Kids ate 13 percent more of their entrees and nearly 20 percent more of their vegetables in 2014 than in 2012, which means that less food is ending up in the trash today than before the national standards were updated.
Myth: It's too difficult for schools to serve healthier meals.
Fact: USDA has and will continue to listen to stakeholders and provide guidance and flexibilities, as appropriate, to help schools and students adapt to the updated requirements. Early in the implementation process for school meals, when schools asked for flexibility to serve larger servings of grains and proteins within the overall calorie caps, USDA responded. In January of 2014, that flexibility was made permanent. USDA is also phasing other requirements in over the next several years. And hearing schools' concerns on the lack of availability of whole grain products, USDA is allowing schools that have demonstrated difficulty in obtaining adequate whole grain items to submit a request to the States to use some traditional products for an additional two years while industry works to create better whole grain products.
Myth: This doesn't have broad public support.
Fact: A recent poll by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shows that more than 80 percent of Americans believe the healthier school meals should stay the same or be strengthened. A September 2014 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association shows that 72 percent of parents favor strong nutrition standards for school meals and 91 percent support serving fruits or vegetables with every meal.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).