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For the first time in 15 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new guidelines for school lunches. The new rules, which were released to the public on January 25, 2012, have been hailed by the American Heart Association, or AHA, as a “huge win” for children’s health.
Nancy Brown, AHA CEO, issued a statement indicating that the new guidelines will play a “critical role in helping young Americans maintain a healthy weight, and ensure that their lives are free of heart disease and stroke.” (AHA 1)
Obesity is one of the risk factors for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of all children in the United States are obese. That’s approximately one in five and the trend does not appear to be reversing. Many more children are also overweight.
Approximately 32 million children in the United States participate in the school lunch or breakfast program. The new guidelines are designed to reflect the newest nutrition information.
Beginning in the fall of 2012, parents can expect to see an increase in whole grain foods, fat-free or low-fat milk products only, lower calorie meals, an increase in fruits and vegetables, the limitation of saturated and trans fats and the lowering of sodium amounts.
By improving nutrition in the school setting, proponents hope that the new food choices will help children maintain a healthy weight and promote general good health.
The new guidelines are not perfect. Schools will still be able to offer some junk food favorites such as pizza, and some argue that sodium guidelines still have room for improvement. Also, it’s important to note that children play a role in their food choices when they aren’t with you and need to therefore be educated and encouraged to make healthy choices.
One mother I spoke to indicated that at her daughter’s school, they have a salad buffet and other items that students may purchase in addition to the basic lunch. Unfortunately, the salad buffet also included bread sticks, puddings, pizza and ice cream.