Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Improving School Lunches and Curbing Obesity: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

As American obesity continues to reach epidemic proportions, there is increasing focus on starting at the source: the kids!

I have previously commented on the complexity of forces at play here. Also worth investigating is The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which received rare bipartisan support, was signed by President Obama in Dec. 2010, and is being rolled out this academic year across the country. Below is another great graphic from Peter Kim, et al, followed by additional info on the law's implementation:

School Lunch Infographic

So what does the Act actually do?

Improves Nutrition and Focuses on Reducing Childhood Obesity 
  • Gives USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores. 
  • Provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches. This is an historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in over 30 years. 
  • Helps communities establish local farm to school networks, create school gardens, and ensures that more local foods are used in the school setting. 
  • Builds on USDA work to improve nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs. 
  • Expands access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.
  • Sets basic standards for school wellness policies including goals for nutrition promotion and education and physical activity, while still permitting local flexibility to tailor the policies to their particular needs. 
  • Promotes nutrition and wellness in child care settings through the federally-subsidized Child and Adult Care Food Program. 
  • Expands support for breastfeeding through the WIC program.
Increases Access 
  • Increases the number of eligible children enrolled in school meal programs by approximately 115,000 students by using Medicaid data to directly certify children who meet income requirements. 
  • Helps certify an average additional 4,500 students per year to receive school meals by setting benchmarks for states to improve the certification process. 
  • Allows more universal meal access for eligible students in high poverty communities by eliminating paper applications and using census data to determine school-wide income eligibility. 
  • Expands USDA authority to support meals served to at-risk children in afterschool programs.
Increases Program Monitoring and Integrity 
  • Requires school districts to be audited every three years to improve compliance with nutritional standards. 
  • Requires schools to make information more readily available to parents about the nutritional quality of meals. 
  • Includes provisions to ensure the safety of school foods like improving recall procedures and extending hazard analysis and food safety requirements for school meals throughout the campus. 
  • Provides training and technical assistance for school food service providers.
For more information and implementation timelines, visit the USDA Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act homepage and the USDA blog.


  1. Nice job Adam. My wife (a dietitian and Ph.D. Nutrition expert) enjoyed your graphics and summary and comparisons with other countries. She tells me that the UK school lunches were very unhealthy before Jamie Oliver got involved. It's amazing what one person can do! Healthy-minded parents are torn between trying to change the school lunch system or just packing a healthy lunch for their kids. I think there is a need for both. The corollary to this is physical activity. As a kid, I remember having PE daily. Now, my daughter only has PE once a week in public school... I'm glad to see that this Act was passed though, and I hope it is the beginning of a healthier trend. - Nate

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