House Nutrition Bill: More paperwork and less nutrition for poor kids
Youth for Healthy Schools strongly opposes the harmful changes in the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003).We support strong nutrition standards for all students and universal free meals for poor students with no stigma and bureaucratic barriers.
Specifically, the draft proposes to roll back standards on whole grains, and slow or stall the reduction of sodium in school meals based on factors like increased costs and levels of student participation. Basing the quality of food served in our schools on how much it costs amounts to telling poor students that healthy food is too good for them. This hypocritical move would also mean that school meals will be out of step with dietary guidelines for Americans.
The draft also reduces the impact of “smart snacks” standards, allowing a return to the days when students are expected to market unhealthy foods to their peers while also having to navigate a cafeteria full of chips, fries, and ice cream.
Finally, the draft would reduce the number of schools that can opt into the Community Eligibility Provision, which according to a recent report by the Center for Budget Policy Priorities has been shown to limit the paperwork required of schools and families, reduce error rates in program applications, and combat hunger by increasing children’s participation in meal programs. Currently, the provision allows schools where at least 40% of students receive safety net benefits to offer free meals to all students, and have schools use local funds to cover any costs that are not covered by federal reimbursement. This bill would raise the threshold to 60%, meaning that schools will have to go back to collecting and processing applications from each family. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities reports that 7,000 high poverty schools with over three million students would have to reinstate applications. Ultimately, our taxes will be going to paperwork rather than to meals and education, punishing poor students in communities around the country – be they urban, suburban, rural or reservations.
“I read about the House’s reauthorization bill and it’s very discouraging. Our families in Southwest Denver already have to work hard to make sure we have access to fresh, healthy food. Does the federal government really care about the health of students like me? About hungry kids in my school who have trouble concentrating?” questioned Estefania Torres, 9th grader and member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
Youth for Healthy Schools promotes and implements evidence-based practices to increase the availability and affordability of fresh, local and healthy food in our schools and communities. We support full funding and implementation of farm to school programs, training and technical assistance for cafeteria staff, renovation of kitchens for the fresh preparation of food, and free school meals to high poverty schools.
Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color leading a movement for school and community wellness, celebrates the 5-year anniversary of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
We believe that healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We also believe strong policy is essential to helping ensure that communities of color and low-income communities have access to fresh and healthy food. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is an important advancement in creating healthier school environments for all students in public schools.
As youth and parents, we are leading efforts in our local communities to improve school food by securing funds and partnerships for farm to school programs, scratch kitchens, and salad bars. We have fought and won for programs that ensure students receive breakfast in the classroom. We are ensuring youth voice in local food policy councils and winning school based wellness centers that attend to the holistic health and wellness needs of students and communities.
We have educated ourselves about the reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act over this year, and we agree with the standards put forward in the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act like less sodium, increased whole grains, and requirements to serve more fruits and vegetables. We know that healthy food can taste great, especially when it is fresh and local. And eating food that is fresh instead of processed means that portion sizes can be bigger too. One of our members had this to say: “When they started giving us fruits and vegetables at lunch, I started eating them,” – Jesus of Inner City Struggle in L.A., a member of Youth for Healthy Schools.
School food is no laughing matter. We may be the first generation of students with a shorter life expectancy that our parents. Maintaining a healthy weight and warding off diseases like diabetes are harder and harder when communities of color and low-income communities lack fresh, healthy, affordable food options. In order to make nutrition standards really work for students, we need to source our food from local farms instead of the industrial factory-made food that is currently provided by corporations.
We call on Congress to make reauthorization of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids with strong standards and increased funding a priority, not a political football. Support us in creating a healthy future.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nijmie Dzurinko (215) 667-0066
Youth Convene for Healthier Schools
Young People of Color to Congress: Keep Moving Forward on School Food
Los Angeles – While most teens are enjoying their summer vacation, members of the Youth for Healthy Schools advocacy network will be traveling from 12 states to meet at The California Endowment in Los Angeles, for three days starting July 30, to share strategies about how to make their schools healthier places to be. At the top of their agenda: school food.
“We support Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in demanding that Congress uphold strong school food standards in the upcoming reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HFFK),” remarked Sandra García of the Southwest Workers Union in San Antonio. “This isn’t child’s play – we may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three U.S. children is overweight. The USDA counts thirty million youth that eat school lunch every day, and two-thirds of those do so out of need. For almost 20 million young people throughout our country, school meals are a primary source of nutrition.
These young people know firsthand what it’s like to live in communities where healthy options are scarce. “We traced the path of students walking to school and all they see is fast food chains with food high in fat and sodium,” shared Isaías Vásquez of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos in Denver. “When that is the alternative, it’s crucial that schools only serve healthy food.”
Implemented after the 2010 passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the enhanced National School Lunch Program’s nutritional guidelines, which include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and limits on fat and salt, are now in their third year. The future of these standards is being debated in Congress.
Despite these common-sense measures that polls show most parents and voters agree with, other groups including corporate food and agriculture giants have hotly contested their implementation and reauthorization.
“It’s sad that some members of Congress seem to care more about the health of corporate profits than the next generation of youth,” reflected Jamal Jones of the Baltimore Algebra Project.
“Youth of today have way more power to change our society than what we’re taking advantage of. The health of our schools’ food directly affects us and it’s our duty to change it for the better!” said Andrea Boakye of Youth Empowered Solutions in Charlotte, N.C.
About Youth for Healthy Schools: Youth for Healthy Schools is a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color in 12 states leading a movement for school and community wellness as part of the Healthy Communities II Initiative of the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. For more information, visit www.youthforhealthyschools.com.