The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst on Oct. 3 chatted with Shelley Hearne, managing director of the Pew Health Group at The Pew Charitable Trusts and a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.
12:04 p.m. Tom Karst: What is your sense on where the USDA is with comments they received on the proposed update to nutrition standards for school meals? Do you think they can get the final rulemaking done in short order?
12:05 p.m. Shelley Hearne: We are very optimistic. There has been overwhelming support. The devil is in the details — there are always going to be people pushing the edges.
But I think that once again (we have) the momentum, and the fact that there has been a funding commitment — and in these economic times that is an extraordinary testament to the importance of the commitment to our schools and our kids and to getting nutritious healthy foods on their plates.
So I think we think that this once again is another step in an alliance of what many see as unusual partners being successful.
12:06 p.m. Karst: In terms of the updated nutrition standards for schools, there is some controversy about limits on starchy vegetables and the financial piece on how this would affect school districts. How do you see those issues playing out, and do you think the USDA can tweak their proposal to accommodate some of those concerns? What do you think is going to happen?
12:07 p.m. Hearne: I’m a simple scientist. At Pew, we are religious about being focused on about the facts we know. What we have been taking a look at with all the work we have been engaged in (is) looking at the work of the Institute of Medicine’s finding. Here is what those scientists thought were the most important standards, fixes, needs, whether it is in nutrition, food safety or antibiotic stewardship.
We also know that thousands of schools have already been able to implement these types of common sense recommendations with the dollars that they have. On top of that, we have the federal government willing to invest an additional 6 cents per meal. The standards are science-based and the health savings — I think the current proposed guidelines are achievable.
12:09 p.m. Karst: Do you think updated nutrition standards for school meals can increase fruit and vegetable consumption among children? Will that be a result of what is going on here?
12:10 p.m. Hearne: By offering children the fruits and vegetables they need for a healthy lifestyle, we’re getting more and more data and evidence how to encourage the selection and consumption of those vegetables. Data indicates that those pathways are forming.
This will come down to how each school and district implement and own the guidelines and what they do, but we’re optimistic that behavior changes can happen once you make good food accessible.