Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today discussed USDA efforts to improve school meals and outlined the need for a renewed commitment to improve childhood nutrition, which will lead to a healthier generation of Americans.
In remarks at Henry A. Wolcott Elementary School, Vilsack noted that America's students now have healthier and more nutritious school meals due to improved nutrition standards implemented as a result of the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The new standards ensure that the 32 million students who participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program have access to meals that contain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and are limited in fat, sodium and sugar.
"For many kids, including 300,000 children who eat school lunch here in Connecticut, healthy meals at school are vital to growing up healthy and strong," said Vilsack. "When children are given the tools they need to make healthy food choices it sets them up to do better in school, while creating generational change that will lead to a healthier Nation."
Secretary Vilsack noted the twin threats of childhood obesity and malnutrition to a healthier next generation. Over the course of the past 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has nearly tripled. Nearly one in three American children and adolescents today are overweight or obese. Some of those children come from low-income families, where access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity can be limited. Nearly a third of our nation's young people are at risk for preventable diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventable diseases have serious consequences - which is why health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Vilsack said that USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food.
USDA recently issued a proposed rule to improve the health of snacks sold in schools. The public is invited to comment at regulations.gov through Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov provide quick, easy reference tools for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and communities.
USDA also created SuperTracker, a free online planning and tracking tool used by over two million Americans daily to help them improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity.
USDA provides shopping strategies and meal planning advice to help families serve more nutritious meals affordably through its 10-Tips Nutrition Series and the Thrifty Food Plan.
Through USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, the Department has worked to increase access to nutritious food through the development of strong local and regional food systems. The number of farmers markets increased by more than 67 percent in the last four years and there are now more than 220 regional food hubs in operation around the country.
USDA launched a new $5 million Farm to School grant program in 2012 to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. This includes a $98,000 Farm to School grant in Connecticut.
Vilsack noted that USDA continues working with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let's Move! initiative, which is helping to promote healthy eating and physical activity while supporting the health of American families. Through the combined efforts of USDA and its partners, the United States is beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our Nation's children.