By guest blogger Alyssa Morones
First lady Michelle Obama, in a White House conference with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, unveiled proposed new rules that aim to shield students from junk-food advertising during the school day.
The announcement corresponds to the fourth anniversary of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, a key focus of which has been to transform the school health environment and to help schools and students make healthier choices.
The new proposed school wellness rules will help ensure that foods and beverages that are marketed to children in school align with the recent Smart Snacks in School standards and will improve upon local student-nutrition policies in the Healthy-Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Once in effect, advertisements for foods that do not meet federal guidelines, such as junk foods and soda, will be banned from campuses during the school day. Schools that do not wish to comply with these guidelines would be allowed to leave the National School Lunch Program, and forgo their corresponding government reimbursements.
To aid schools with the implementation of these policies, the Agriculture Department will launch a new “School Nutrition Environment and Wellness Resources” website that will include wellness policies for districts and resources for on-campus food marketing practices.
“Parents should be in control of their kids’ health,” said Mrs. Obama. “When parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn’t be undone by unhealthy messages at school.”
The first lady also highlighted the coming expansion of a school meals program that allows schools with high concentrations of low-income students to serve meals to all students in their buildings. The eligibility option, already in 11 states, has been rolled out incrementally, beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. Beginning July 1, schools across the country whose populations are largely from low-income families will be eligible to serve free lunch and breakfast to all students in the school.
The “community eligibility” provision was already set to roll out nationwide during the upcoming school year, but today’s announcement also draws attention to a new report from the USDA, detailing the program’s success in the pilot states.
The program will use data already collected by other programs such as SNAP or TANF, forgoing paper applications. According to the White House, this policy change will add more than 22,000 schools across the country to the program.
“There’s a stigma associated with participating in school breakfast programs,” said Ms. Obama. Making these meals available to all students in the school would eliminate that stigma.
The policy is based on research that shows students who eat breakfast perform better in class. They have higher achievement and are better behaved and more attentive in class.
“Healthy, well-educated kids make healthy well-educated adults,” said Ms. Obama, and that important implications for the U.S. workforce and economy.
Photo: JoAnne Hammermaster, co-founder and president of Real Food For Kids, and her son Sam Hammermaster, in background, introduce first lady Michelle Obama before she announces proposed guidelines for local school wellness policies during an event in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. --Charles Dharapak/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.