GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 27, 2012

My View: Healthier school nutrition standards

My View
Richard Safier

---- — With the recent celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday — and at the risk of being a humbug — it is, perhaps, a good time to talk about good nutrition, and the new state and federal standards for school lunches.

Many of us are aware that, nationally, one in three American youths are overweight or obese. This is a serious problem that puts our children at risk of health complications like diabetes and heart disease, elevated blood pressure, and even some kinds of cancers.

In response to this concern, both the federal government and the Massachusetts Legislature have responded with requirements that are based on scientific and expert recommendations from sources such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report (of the National Academies) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture.

At the federal level, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the Department of Agriculture to update standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In Massachusetts, the “Act Relative to School Nutrition,” signed into law on July 30, 2010, requires the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to establish standards for foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools during the school day.

School districts including, of course, the Gloucester Public School District must comply with the nutrition standards beginning Aug. 1, 2012.

Here in Gloucester, in a summary of major health initiatives and services dated August 2012 and provided by the director of nurses, the following data was provided for 896 students in Grades 1, 4, 7, and 10:

2.1 percent of students are under the 5th percentile (underweight).

61.27 percent students are between the 5th and 84th percentile (normal weight).

17.96 percent are between the 85th and 95th percentile (at-risk of being overweight).

18.75 percent are over the 95th percentile (overweight).

This data indicates that 37 percent of the sample population tested is at-risk for being overweight or overweight. This is a 2 percent increase from the previous year and consistent with national trends.

The objective of the Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards is to provide the opportunity for children to consume whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The goal of these standards is to ensure that public schools offer students food and beverage choices that will enhance learning, contribute to their healthy growth and development, and cultivate lifelong healthy eating behaviors.

The standards apply to foods and beverages sold or made available in public school cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and snack bars. The standards apply to foods and beverages sold or provided to students 30 minutes before the beginning of the school day until 30 minutes after the school day ends. Foods and beverages sold in vending machines must comply with the standards at all times.

The following standards apply to all public elementary, middle and high school students:

All fruit and vegetable juice are to have no added sugar with servings no more than 4 ounces.

Low-fat (1 percent or less) and fat-free milk only, no more than 8 ounces.

Water is to be provided with no added sugars, sweeteners or artificial sweeteners. Water may contain natural flavorings and/or carbonation.

No beverages other than juice, milk, milk substitutes and water shall be sold or provided (no soda, sports drinks, teas, etc.).

No more than 35 percent of total calories from a meal should be attributed to fat. No more than 10 percent of total calories are to come from saturated fat, and no foods with trans fats should be served.

Fat exemptions include one-ounce servings of nuts, nut butters, seeds and reduced-fat cheese.

No more than 35 percent of the total calories in a meal served in schools are to come from sugars. There are some exemptions regarding sugar—all fruit with no added sugar is acceptable. Low-fat or non-fat yogurt (including drinkable yogurt) with no more than 30 grams of total sugars per 8-ounce serving is also consistent with the guidelines.

No food shall contain more than 200 mg of sodium per item. À la carte entrées should not contain more than 480 mg of sodium per item.

All bread or grain-based products shall be whole grain, i.e., whole grain should be listed first in the ingredient statement. These include crackers, granola bars, chips, bakery items, pasta, rice, etc.

No caffeine or artificial sweeteners are to be served.

For more detailed information, please see “Healthy Students, Healthy Schools: Revised Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages” at http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/mass-in-motion/school-nutrition-guide.pdf

The Gloucester Public School District recognizes its role in health promotion in general and nutritional health in particular. This includes ensuring that children have access to adequate and healthy food while in school, that we promote healthy eating patterns through classroom nutrition education coordinated with the comprehensive health education program including education, health and food services, and that children have access to appropriate nutrition services through our school-wide nutrition policy.

Here’s wishing everyone a healthy and nutritious holiday season.

Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public School District.