Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law legislation ensuring that only foods that meet established nutritional standards are sold in public schools during school hours. The law, "An Act Relative to School Nutrition" (H 4459), also mandates that the Department of Public Health (DPH) create specific food guidelines through the regulatory process.
"This law is an important step toward ensuring that there are healthy choices for kids at school," said Governor Patrick. "I want to thank our partners in both the Legislature and in the private sector for recognizing that the health and well-being of our children is a key part of ensuring a solid foundation for their futures."
"This law reflects the Patrick-Murray Administration's deep commitment to promoting wellness and controlling obesity in the Commonwealth," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. "It's significant because it helps children develop habits that will impact their overall health throughout their lives."
"We're committed to providing a high-quality education for every student in the Commonwealth," said Secretary of Education Paul Reville. "But we recognize that academic achievement is the result of a combination of factors including high expectations and excellent teaching, but also the readiness and preparedness of students when they arrive in school. Nutrition plays a key role in student learning and this bill will help schools with their efforts to improve the ability of students to be successful."
"This new law will help kids choose healthier foods during the school day," said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. "It's a wonderful complement to Governor Patrick's Mass in Motion anti-obesity initiative, which is dedicated to creating conditions that promote healthy eating and physical activity."
"This is a great day for nearly a million children in the Massachusetts public schools," said Executive Director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, Valerie Bassett. "This law will put healthier food choices in schools, so that the next generation has a fairer chance at long, healthy lives free from diabetes, heart disease or other preventable chronic illness."
The legislation signed today encourages and supports the use of local, fresh farm products in schools and requires the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks at schools. It also calls on the Department of Public Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to set guidelines for the training of school nurses around the issues of obesity, diabetes and eating disorders. Additionally, the bill makes a special effort to allow for reasonable exemptions at extracurricular events, special fundraisers and other venues.
"This will be an important milestone in our fight to curb the epidemic of childhood obesity which is a major public health problem and can lead to chronic diseases in adults such as diabetes and heart disease, " said Senator Susan C. Fargo.
"In helping schoolchildren by expanding healthier options for school meals, including an increase in the availability of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, we can prevent diseases like diabetes that are debilitating for families and put a tremendous burden on our health care system," said Senator Richard T. Moore, Senate Chairman of the Committee on Healthcare Financing. "Our success in improving the future wellness of the Commonwealth depends on our efforts in appropriately educating our children in school nutrition, and this bill sets in motion many provisions that that will enlighten our youth to the benefits of making healthy decisions."
"Many experts predict that, for the first time in the history of the world, we are raising a generation who may have a shorter life expectancy than that of its parents. This law is a victory for these children in that it will lower the chances of developing life-long chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease," said Representative Peter Koutoujian. "As a parent, I watch what my kids eat at home to help them stay healthy and our schools should make every effort to do the same."
"The signing of this bill is the culmination of several years of work to improve the nutritional options for our public school children. I hope this bill will contribute to teaching children life-long healthy eating habits and will improve the wellness of the next generation," said Representative Lida E. Harkins.
"Given the obesity crisis that we're facing as a nation, we should do everything we can to ensure that our schools are aware of the food being consumed by our children. This short term planning will lead to great savings in healthcare for the long run," said Representative Louis L. Kafka.
As part of Administration's commitment to combating obesity, DPH has aggressively promoted health and wellness initiatives across the Commonwealth through programs like the Mass in Motion public health campaign launched in 2009. Similarly, efforts to increase wellness and reduce health care costs, through addressing the root causes of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, has remained a top priority of the Patrick-Murray Administration.