The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has its hackles up over mounting criticisms of its school lunch, food stamp and other public nutrition programs, which critics argue are feeding America’s growing obesity crisis. The agency—whose food nutrition programs will cost taxpayers about $73 billion and affect an estimated 61 million Americans during the 2009 fiscal year—said no definitive proof exists linking its programs to increased obesity.
“USDA is not aware of any convincing evidence that school meals or other federal nutrition programs cause obesity and overweight. The evidence that does exist is mixed,” Thomas O'Connor, USDA's acting deputy undersecretary for nutrition, told a House Appropriations subcommittee on March 12.
As the parent of school-age children, I know that all one has to do is check out the menu of a typical public school lunch program to see that the food the USDA is feeding our nation’s children is not nearly as nutritious as it could or should be. That’s why I’m particularly interested in seeing changes occur within the USDA’s school lunch program, which continues to serve high-fat and high-sodium food to school kids every day. Fortunately, President Obama has proposed adding $1 billion a year in funding for child nutrition programs, with a portion of this money going toward improving the nutritional quality of school meals.
Here in Boulder, where Nutrition Business Journal is based, we are lucky to have Ann Cooper—a.k.a. the Renegade Lunch Lady and author of Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way we Feed Our Children—taking over the public school system’s lunch program. We’re hoping she’s able to do here what she achieved in Berkeley, California, where Cooper eliminated all trans fats and frozen foods from the city’s school lunch program and introduced healthful new menus that emphasize whole grains, low-fat protein and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cooper discussed the issue of children’s nutrition and the work she is doing to clean up school lunch programs across the country during a packed education session at Natural Products Expo West on March 5. She is also one of the experts who will help shed light on this issue for NBJ’s upcoming Healthy Kids issue, which will publish in April.