It's Time to Transform School Lunches

Jun 10, 2010, 09:30 ET from Grains For Health Foundation

Health And Industry Leaders Urging Broad Changes To Help Fight Childhood Obesity

MINNEAPOLIS, June 10  /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- After 30 years of monitoring the childhood obesity epidemic, the numbers have not improved, prompting scientists, health experts, the food industry, and school nutritionists to come together in what is likely a first-ever gathering of representatives of the nation's food supply chain under one roof.

The two-day conference held in Minneapolis focused on school meals, which have become the frontline in the battle against childhood obesity.

Changes discussed that could be adopted in schools nationwide:

  • More fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Banning soda and snacks
  • Removing a la carte items from cafeteria menus
  • Longer lunch periods
  • Prohibit off-campus lunchtime
  • Return to more "scratch kitchens" housed within schools
  • Create national standards for all states to adhere to uniformly

"The stakes are high," said William Dietz, M.D., Centers for Disease Control, a keynote speaker at the conference. "More and more children are confronting the negative health effects of poor diets, and it's time for meaningful change."

The non-profit Grains For Health Foundation organized the conference to facilitate change. In May the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity called for the elimination of the epidemic within the next 20 years.

Challenges facing schools include tight budgets. Food industry barriers include an absence of national nutrition standards since school meals programs are typically handled by states or individual school districts.

"Change may be coming to a school near you," said Dr. Len Marquart, head of the Grains for Health Foundation. "School lunch is the perfect opportunity for kids to get fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. The United States has the most advanced food industry in the world. We can defeat childhood obesity, but we must work together."

In her speech, Virginia Stallings, M.D., chair of the Institutes of Medicine committee to improve school nutrition, said the obesity epidemic is our "wake up call." She said, "60 percent of the children in this country participate in school meal programs. We need to encourage fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

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SOURCE Grains For Health Foundation