Chairwoman Stabenow: We Must Work Together to Address Challenges in Providing Healthy Meals in Schools; Reversing Course Is Not an Option

Stabenow Convenes Panel of School Meal Experts to Discuss What’s Working and to Examine Strategies to Overcome Obstacles in Feeding Healthy Meals to Children in Schools

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said that school personnel, parents, community leaders and other stakeholders must work together to address challenges in providing healthy meals to children in schools. Stabenow, whose comments came during a Committee hearing as part of a larger effort to update child nutrition laws, said reversing course is not an option because the health of our children is directly linked to the health of our economy, national security, and long-term sustainability as a nation.

“According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity in young children has more than doubled in the last 30 years, and it's grown more than four times higher for teenagers in the same time frame. That means today more than 1 out of 3 children is either overweight or obese,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “So if we can turn a corner in this country by offering healthy food choices in schools, and by teaching healthy eating habits, we will not only improve the health of our children, but our country’s long-term economic and national security as well.”

Chairwoman Stabenow said recent studies are showing that healthier, improved meal options are being well received by school children across the country, and efforts like farm to school garden initiatives are teaching kids the importance of where their food comes from.

“I have had the opportunity to visit many schools in Michigan and I have been impressed to see elementary school students enjoying broccoli and pineapple from salad bars, and students learning about where their food comes from through farm to school garden efforts,” Stabenow said.

“This is so important when you look at where we are right now, in terms of childhood obesity. We can only make these important changes if our friends and partners in the food industry, non-profit organizations, agriculture, state and federal agencies, cafeterias and classrooms all work together.”

Among the witnesses testifying at today’s hearing was Betti Wiggins of Detroit Public Schools, who said that by working together with food distributors, farmers and other community leaders, Detroit schools are succeeding in meeting the challenges of feeding high quality meals to approximately 50,000 school children every day.

“Our menus include a healthy array of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, 100% fruit juices and low?fat milk,” Wiggins said. “Our work makes a critical positive difference in their lives, their families and our community.”

Other witnesses who testified at today’s hearing include Mr. Scott Clements, Director, Office of Healthy Schools and Child Nutrition, Mississippi Department of Education, Jackson, MS; Ms. Julia Bauscher, President-Elect, School Nutrition Association; Director of School and Community Nutrition Services, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY; Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director, National Food Service Management Institute, University of Mississippi, University, MS; and, Mr. Phil Muir, President and CEO, Muir Copper Canyon Farms, Salt Lake City, UT.

An archived webcast of today’s hearing can be viewed on the Committee’s website at http://ag.senate.gov. Additional materials, including testimony, can be found on the hearing page here. Below are Chairwoman Stabenow’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery.

Opening Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

July 23, 2014: “Meeting the Challenges of Feeding America’s School Children”

I would like to welcome everyone to the Committee’s second hearing on child nutrition.

According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity in young children has more than doubled in the last 30 years, and it's grown more than four times higher for teenagers in the same time frame. That means today more than 1 out of 3 children is either overweight or obese.

And as a country, we spend 1 out of every 5 healthcare dollars treating obesity-related illnesses every year.

At our first hearing on this issue, we heard jarring testimony from a military General that 75 percent of our youth cannot qualify for military service – 75 percent.

So if we can turn a corner in this country by offering healthy food choices in schools, and by teaching healthy eating habits, we will not only improve the health of our children, but our country’s long-term economic and national security as well.

Today we will examine the ways school food service directors, farmers, school administration professionals and community leaders are meeting the needs of our children every day by working together to serve healthy meals.

We’ve all heard the jokes about school meals: burnt fish sticks, mystery meat tacos and cafeterias full of deep fryers. Well those days are gone. I have had the opportunity to visit many schools in Michigan and I have been impressed to see elementary school students enjoying broccoli and pineapple from salad bars, and students learning about where their food comes from through farm to school efforts.

The really good news is that this isn’t just happening in Michigan, but in schools all across the country. We are seeing schools installing salad bars and serving low-fat turkey burgers and burritos packed with vegetables and whole grains. Schools are encouraging children to eat healthier by showing them that healthy can taste good, too.

In some cases, the students are not only enjoying this food at school, but they are beginning to ask for it at home.

This is so important when you look at where we are right now, in terms of childhood obesity.

We can only make these important changes if our friends and partners in the food industry, non-profit organizations, agriculture, state and federal agencies, cafeterias and classrooms all work together.

Today we will hear how schools are providing these foundational meals every day.

Like the ingredients in many of the meals schools serve, the work each of our witnesses does represents a key ingredient in helping our schools rise to the challenge of feeding our nation’s children.

As we know, this is not always an easy task, but the goal of reducing childhood hunger and obesity is too important to reverse course now.

Instead, we are looking forward.

Today, we will examine some of the challenges schools face in providing access to healthy foods and, most importantly, what solutions there are to address many of those concerns.