You remember all the flap in November about how Congress had proclaimed pizza a vegetable when it comes to school lunches? The “eh” news first: Pizza is still a vegetable. The better news: Today, for the first time in 15 years, the USDA announced significant new nutrition standards, including a call for at least two veggies at lunch. That means the pizza needs to be paired with a side of “other” veggies, or fruit. You know. Peas, carrots, even tomato paste’s cousin, tomatoes. Those will work too.
Sarcasm aside, the new nutrition standards signal progress toward healthier options for our children in the lunchroom. More vegetables and fruits, more whole grains, skim chocolate milk and at least 1% regular milk, first-ever lower sodium levels and reduced calorie ranges according to age.
We know big change doesn’t come overnight — especially in the complex world of public health and the environment — so we welcome the new standards. Last week, it was big news from the CDC that adult obesity rates in the U.S. have leveled off (for the moment). Encouraging news, but not yet a trend. Based on our experience working in the world of obesity prevention, we know the ultimate deterrent is a combination of policy and education that leads to successful behavior change. And in the case of obesity prevention, that means better nutrition and exercise on an individual basis. This couldn’t be more important for any age range up to 100 as it is for kindergartners and students from first grade through high school graduation. It doesn’t take a scientific study to know what we were fed growing up has an influence on what we eat now. This is progress. Let’s hope a ripple effect continues.