Where would school nutrition standards be without First Lady Michelle Obama? The lady has certainly done more than her share to promote healthy eating in the last several years, and her remarks to school nutrition leaders yesterday were another example of her forceful presence. If Republicans are pushing back against school nutrition standards as a political statement against the Obama Administration, that is unfortunate. Here are some of the first lady’s remarks May 27:
Because of you and your colleagues across the country, today, tens of millions of children are eating healthier school meals that finally meet modern nutrition standards, by the way, that were developed by experts at the Institute of Medicine, and based on sound science.
And I know that this type of major transformation of our nation’s school lunch program hasn’t been easy. The truth is that when it came to the food being served in our schools, we had our work cut out for us. Our school lunch program costs taxpayers more than $10 billion a year. And before these new standards, a lot of that money was spent on meals that had more than the recommended amounts of salt, sugar and fat -- meals that weren’t meeting basic nutrition guidelines.
But today, thanks to the hard work of school chefs, food service workers across the country, 90 percent of schools are now meeting modern nutrition standards. That’s a good thing. And the USDA is working to provide greater flexibility and more assistance to help the remaining schools catch up.
So today, kids across America are eating more fruits and vegetables -- let’s hear it -- (applause) -- more low-fat dairy products and whole grains. And as a result of these changes, in many school districts -- which is important to note -- the number of students participating in the school lunch program has actually increased. And today, more importantly, parents across the country finally have some peace of mind about what their kids are eating during the school day.
But unfortunately, despite these successes, we’re now seeing efforts in Congress to roll back these new standards and undo the hard work that all of you, all of us have done on behalf of our kids. And this is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to me not just as First Lady, but as a mother. I know that right now, because I have talked to so many parents, so many teachers, so many kids write me every day. And more families are realizing that we are facing a health crisis in this country. We’re now realizing that childhood obesity is a real issue. And so many families are looking for help now in their efforts to find new ways to feed their families balanced meals.
So moms and dads don’t want their efforts undermined when they send their kids off to school. Parents have a right to expect that their kids will get decent food in our schools. And we all have a right to expect that our hard-earned taxpayer dollars won’t be spent on junk food for our kids.
And the stakes just couldn’t be higher on this issue. Because one in three children in this country are still overweight or obese, and one in three are on track to develop diabetes in their lifetimes. Those are real statistics. And we currently spend $190 billion a year treating obesity-related conditions -- and just imagine what those numbers are going to look like in 10 or 20 years if we don’t start working on this problem now, if we don’t solve it today.
So the last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health, especially when we’re finally starting to see some progress on this issue. We’re starting to move the curve on this. And folks like all of you have worked so hard to meet these new standards, and now is not the time to roll back everything that we have worked for. Our kids deserve so much better than that. They really do.
And as parents, there is nothing that we would not do for our kids -- there is nothing. Not a thing. We always put our kids’ interests first. We wake up every morning and we go to bed every night thinking and worrying about the health and well-being of our kids. I know I do that with my kids, and I do it with every kid in this country.
And when we make decisions about our kids’ health, we want those decisions to be guided by doctors and nutritionists. We want decisions that rely on the best information based on sound science. And that’s what we expect from our leaders in Washington, as well.
So it is up to us to hold them accountable. It’s up to us to let them know that we’re going to follow what’s going on here in Washington, and we expect them to act based on our children’s best interests. And I know this work isn’t easy. Transforming the health of an entire generation is no small task. But we have to be willing to fight the hard fight now. This is what I tell myself. In 10 or 20 years, I don’t want to look back with regret and think that we gave up on our kids because we felt like this thing was too hard, or too expensive. We owe our kids way more than that.
TK: No matter the outcome of the appropriations committee process and the eventual status of school nutrition standards, the fresh produce industry should hold a gala “thank you” party for the first lady at some future date. She has earned any praise directed her way. The next first lady won’t embrace nutrition issues the way Michelle Obama has, that much is certain. For the fresh produce industry, more is the pity.