WASHINGTON, D.C. — For key public policy influencers engaged in the debate over school nutrition standards, now is no time to backtrack on improved nutrition for school lunches.
“Retreat is not an option, this is too important,” said Jamie Barnett, retired Navy rear admiral and a spokesman for Mission: Readiness, at a Sept. 9 luncheon general session at the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference.
“We are talking about children, national security and economic security,” he said, encouraging attendees of the Washington Conference to urge Congress to hold the lines for the nutrition standards.
Barnett said obesity is a national security problem bordering on a crisis. Statistics from the Department of Defense reveal 70% of young Americans 17-24 are not eligible to serve in the military. The biggest single medical reason young people can’t serve is being overweight or obese, Barnett said. The issue is an increasing concern to the military, he said.
Barnett said Mission: Readiness will issue a follow-up report later in September to previous reports on the issue, including the 2010 report “Too fat to fight” and the 2012 report “Still too fat to fight.”
“We have been watching this issue for some time,” he said. “Childhood obesity has tripled since 1980 and we have to address it now.”
Since the school setting is where kids receive half their calories, it must be addressed, he said.
That includes limiting the mountains of junk food sold in schools, and new school standards this year provide students with healthier snacks, he said.
“We continue to engage Congress to prevent weakening of science-based standards of school nutrition standards,” he said.
For schools that are having trouble meeting the standards, assistance must be given to help them serve good meals.
Eduardo Sanchez, deputy chief medical officer of the Dallas-based American Heart Association, said the group has pledged to help improve cardiovascular health by 20% by 2020. Sanchez said school nutrition standards will help in reaching that goal.
“We endorse fruits and vegetables as an essential component of healthier school meals,” he said, adding the group also supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Smart Snack standards.
“The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is making a positive difference and must be protected,” he said.
Healthy children will have more academic success and a better life, he said.
“Fruits and vegetables are the right medicine,” he said.
Sanchez said the American Heart Association has urged Congress to retain the fruit and vegetable requirement in school meals.
Otha Thornton, president of the National PTA, Alexandria, Va., also added support for the fruit and vegetable standards in school meals.
“Advocating for children to be served fruits and vegetables and leaner cuts of meat — who would fight with that?” he said.
He said lawmakers who are attempting to turn back the clock on nutrition standards are giving into pressure from groups that don’t have the best interests of children at heart.
“Tell lawmakers to stay on the right path, to do what is right for our children,” he said.