Carrots in the wind?
Capping calories: USDA owns up to childhood obesity, but will Houston step up?
So long, French fries, chili dogs, and Salisbury steak — and good riddance.
Last week, the USDA called for dramatic changes in cafeterias everywhere, passing new school lunch regulations for the first time in 15 years. The new standards are designed to improve the health of the 32 million American kids who take meals at school daily.
Why the change? Nutritional experts have suggested that, thanks to the national obesity epidemic, generation 2K will have a shorter lifespan than their parents by three to five years. If that’s true, this represents the first time in United States history that the next generation will not live longer than their parents.
So gone are the days of ketchup as a vegetable. The new regulations finally tip the scales in our favor: reduce saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Decrease the amount of starchy vegetables and increase whole grains. Serve both fruits and vegetables daily. And for the first time ever, set maximum and minimum calorie counts. The legislation also provides schools with an additional six cents per meal served.
“The more we can reinforce the right set of choices and encourage the right set of choices, the greater the chances are that we will get a handle on obesity,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.
True, Mr. Vilsack, so where is the corresponding education? Yes, the new standards are a big deal — huge, even — but throwing carrots at the problem won’t completely solve it.
We also need food-based science integrated into curriculums, increased accountability in food services and more school gardens. There will always be a calorie-bomb on the menu, and students will choose that one every day until we teach them not to.
Breakfasts and lunches at HISD schools actually seem much improved this year with the district’s new food prep facility, unveiled in 2009. Big ticket items are prepared at the facility, and then transported to individual campuses, which allows the district to oversee the levels of sugar and salt in the foods.
Still, the online menus show an abundance of burgers and chili dogs. While every lunch features healthy options — like fresh fruit, legumes, or vegetables — students can simply choose the daily pizza, bypassing nutritional standards altogether. But HISD isn’t far from fitting within the new regulations. And several other Houston-area schools are already well within them.
Reports say the official guidelines will be complete in 2012; districts will then have one to two years of training, and then one to two years to fully implement the changes.
Will the changes help? Let’s hope so. The health of our children — and indeed our nation — depends on it.