The National Academies

Healthy School Lunches for Healthy Kids

By Patricia Pooladi

September 16 - In school lunchrooms across the nation, a new trend is emerging. Healthy lunch menu items are appearing in greater quantities, and healthier snacks are replacing candy bars and sugary sodas in vending machines in contribution to the nation’s battle against child obesity -- perhaps providing legislators with some models of wellness to consider when the Child Nutrition Act comes up for redesign and reauthorization shortly.

The Child Nutrition Act was signed into law in 1966 and the nation's current program of nutrition standards and meal requirements was updated a little more than a decade ago. Nutrition science has improved greatly since these standards were implemented, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to request that the Institute of Medicine provide guidance on revising nutrition standards and meal requirements for school meal programs. In response to the request, IOM intends to release this fall the results of its study Review of National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Meal Patterns and Nutrient Standards.

Also recognizing that childhood obesity must be tackled on numerous levels, beyond school walls as well as within them, IOM released earlier this month Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity. The report highlights several examples of ways local officials can promote healthier lifestyles, and recommends starting points for preventing childhood obesity, such as limiting the availability of low-nutrient, high-calorie foods in school zones. Another report -- Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth -- offers guidance on food and beverage options offered in schools that compete with federally reimbursable meals and snacks.

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