A flurry of federal and national proposals, reports and initiatives have been released in recent months, pushing the issue of childhood obesity to the forefront of national education issues.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign has been the most high profile. It calls on a broad cross section of community and state leaders, including school board members, to combat the epidemic that claims one-third of all youth as overweight or obese.
The task force behind the White House initiative last week unveiled a 124-page report that included more than 70 recommendations, with some specifically targeted at school meals and increasing physical activity.
Their report comes on the heels of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, currently being considered in the Senate, which would revamp the Child Nutrition Act. It would require schools to step up their efforts in boosting the nutritional value and safety of school lunches.
And this is in conjunction with new standards the U.S. Department of Agriculture is being tasked with drafting. Those will be based on recommendations the Institute of Medicine released last fall that, among other things, nixed whole milk from cafeterias, required more vegetables and whole grains, and set caloric and sodium limits–the latter of which the FDA just restricted for processed foods.
NSBA has long recognized childhood obesity as a growing societal problem that schools and governance teams can help address. However, given the severe budget cuts many school districts are facing and the fact that many local school boards have created innovative and successful programs without federal interference, NSBA is wary of increased federal mandates.
“Children who eat nutritious foods and are active stay healthier, perform better in school, and learn behaviors that will keep them healthy throughout their lifetimes,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant. “Many local school boards across the nation, along with officials at the local and state level, already have taken a number of innovative steps to improve school nutrition and fitness programs.”
At the same, school boards must balance numerous instructional and other priorities based on local circumstances and available resources, Bryant said.
“True change in this critical effort must start at the local level,” she said. “Working with and through our state school boards associations, we are committed to providing school districts with the tools to ensure local policies provide the direction necessary for true change to take place within a generation.”