PUBLISHED: June 22, 2011
New law will help keep kids healthy
Sandi Van Scoyoc | Concord Monitor | Link to article
Our state and nation are struggling with a childhood obesity epidemic. The statistics are alarming: At least one in three children is either overweight or obese, and will most likely suffer with diabetes at some point in his or her life. The cost to our economy? Nationally, we're spending almost $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related health conditions. So what are we doing about it?
Despite budget challenges, passage of the Child Nutrition Bill (The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) by Congress last December has created an exciting, new foundation for making some important changes in our children's food environment. Many of the provisions will take effect this summer, and these changes are all positive. Most important, the Act:
• Establishes new nutrition standards. The bill requires school, child-care facilities and other programs serving children to offer more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products if they wish to receive federal reimbursement.
• Encourages physical activity. The bill requires that those who participate in the meals program provide daily opportunities for physical activity and limit the time spent watching television or other electronic media.
• Increases federal reimbursement. For the first time in more than three decades, the bill increases federal reimbursement for eligible school lunches beyond inflation - to help cover the cost of higher-quality meals.
• Provides technical assistance and other support. The provisions of the bill include training to help staff understand the benefits of the program, as well as resources to help providers communicate with parents and the community about the importance of serving healthier food to children.
For school officials and child-care providers, the ultimate impact of this legislation is fairly simple: It's about getting higher quality food into our classrooms and our cafeterias, and the junk food out the door, while also providing a minimum level of physical activity each day. This legislation doesn't mandate compliance, and there is no obligation to participate. The real intent is merely to expand the variety of food being offered to our children.
If you are a New Hampshire school official or child-care provider, this law has help for you.
It gives you access to a financial support system for your meal program. It provides contact with a network of professionals who will help you implement and sustain your meal program. And it makes available training to enhance your professional standing with parents and colleagues.
For parents - and all those who care about the health and well-being of our state's children - this legislation creates a new question for you to ask whenever you entrust your children to the care of others: Do you participate in the federal meal program?
If the answer is "yes," you can now be assured that healthy food and snacks are available to your children each day.
If the answer is "no," then we hope that you'll ask a few additional questions about the food that is available, and why your child's school or childcare provider is not participating.
Ultimately, this legislation challenges all of us to learn more about our children's food environment, and to be a good model for them in the environment we can control: the home.
We hope it inspires us to think more thoughtfully about our total food environment, and perhaps make some adjustments in how we - individually, as a family, and as a community - eat and live.
What does it mean to be a healthy community? While the primary goal of this legislation is to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation - so kids born today can reach adulthood at a healthy weight - there is much more involved in making that actually happen. We strongly believe that the passage of the "Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" takes some crucial steps in creating a healthier food environment for our children, but it also brings some other key community health issues to light.
There is a clear need to have more local community discussions about how the food environment impacts our kids - as well as the rest of us!
Go to hnhfoundation.org or call 271-3883 to learn more about how this legislation impacts you, your kids and your community.
(Sandi Van Scoyoc is president of the HNH Foundation. This piece was also signed by Patricia Cantor and Julie McConnell of the New Hampshire Child Care Advisory Council; Judith Fillion, director of the Division of Program Support at the state Department of Education; Laura Milliken, director of the New Hampshire Early Childhood Advisory Council; Jose Montero, director of the state Division of Public Health Services; Elaine Van Dyke, administrator of the state Bureau of Nutrition Programs and Services; and Ellen Wheatley, administrator of the state Child Development Bureau.)