Mar 17, 2010 -
In an effort to curb the childhood obesity epidemic, which First Lady Michelle Obama has called “one of the greatest threats to America's health and economy,” Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) today introduced H.R. 4870 – The Healthy School Meals Act – that will fight obesity and related costly diseases by expanding children’s access to healthy alternatives in schools.
“Childhood obesity has tripled over the past thirty years, and children are increasingly afflicted with adult diseases—including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension—as a direct result of their unhealthy diet and lifestyles,” said Polis. “The easiest way to stop kids from eating fatty foods is by providing them with the healthiest options possible, but many schools simply cannot afford them. This bill will help a growing nationwide effort to improve children’s eating patterns by encouraging and supporting schools to offer more healthy eating options.”
The Healthy School Meals Act makes plant-based foods more affordable and available for schools to purchase and provides incentives for schools to provide them to students through their federally-funded breakfast and lunch programs. It also removes restrictions on providing healthy drink alternatives with school lunches, thus improving the nutrition of millions of children who often lack vital nutrients because they are lactose intolerant or do not drink milk for religious reasons.
Key provisions of H.R. 4870 – The Healthy School Meals Act:
- Pilot Program: Directs USDA to conduct a two-year pilot program to provide selected school food authorities with plant-based alternate protein products and nondairy milk substitutes at no cost.
- More Plant-Based Commodities: Based on the pilot evaluation’s findings, USDA will purchase healthier protein products and milk substitutes through the commodities purchase program, making them available at a reduced cost.
- Incentives for Schools: School districts where at least two-thirds of the students are offered vegetarian entrées on their lunch menus will receive supplemental commodity assistance.
- Healthy Milk Alternatives: Schools will offer students a substitute for milk that meets nutritional standards established by USDA for calcium, vitamin D, and other key nutrients and will be reimbursed for meals that include a healthy milk alternative. An estimated 25% of the U.S. population is lactose intolerant; this includes 70% of African Americans, 90% of Asian Americans, 53% of Hispanic Americans, and 74% of Native Americans.
Polis’ bill is supported by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Soyfoods Association of North America, and Hollywood actress and nutritional advocate Scarlett Johansson.
“Schools want to serve healthy meals, but they need help from Congress," says PCRM nutritionist Kathryn Strong, R.D. "The Healthy School Meals Act would give school cafeterias the power to offer more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat plant-based options. All students, including those who are vegetarian or lactose-intolerant, deserve healthful options in the lunch line."