Before Lebron James throws up some chalk and walks onto the court, he usually has some fruit and a protein shake to make sure he has the right combination of nutrients to perform. If he ate fast food instead, then he would certainly not be as dominant on a fast break. Eating healthy and working out regularly is critical to making sure he stays at the top of his game.
This same logic should apply in our nation’s schools. Before students enter the classroom, too often they are either not eating enough nutrients or consuming foods that are high in sugar and low in vitamins. They don’t fully understand how their diet will affect them in that moment or for years down the road. If these students had access to improved nutrition education and access to healthier foods, they would be able to earn higher test scores. Studies have shown that healthier meals could increase student scores by about 4 percentage points on average. Healthier meals have also proved to help improve student attendance and behave better in class. However, our students are not able to realize their full potential because we are not giving them the tools to get there. Furthermore, our schools need additional resources and personnel to help create innovative lunchroom strategies and programs.
That is why I introduced the Nutrition Coordinators for Local Healthy Youth Act to connect qualified nutrition professionals with school districts to ensure our school lunch programs and local wellness initiatives are being carried out in a way that maximizes our next generation’s potential.
These nutrition coordinators will facilitate local wellness initiatives and combine their efforts with community health programs. Some examples include using family style eating to encourage healthy decision making, delivering hands-on nutrition education lessons that are aligned across grade levels, and providing schools the technical assistance they need to develop health centered environments.
These environments are needed more than ever because one in eight Americans, including three million households with children, are food insecure. Statistics like these prompted me to introduce this legislation and continue to push for these type of innovative solutions to get our children excited about eating healthier food. One of the easiest ways to do this is for schools to put salad bars into their cafeterias. Salad bars are proven to be an effective strategy to increase children’s consumption of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Recently, I secured language in the Fiscal Year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill that will make is easier for schools to use federal grant money to purchase salad bars.
Salad bars are one of the easiest ways for schools to meet nutrition standards. They empower students to try new fruits and vegetables and have been shown to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Combined, these efforts create the conditions for students to learn that carrots can be a substitute for candy bars and that it’s better to eat some hot peppers instead of a hot pocket.
My efforts are based on programs that I have seen up close and in person, like the Eatiquette program in Philadelphia where students participate in preparing, serving and cleaning up after the meal. They pass food around and engage in conversations to help them develop the pro-social skills future employers are looking for. Not only do these nutrition education programs benefit students by decreasing the number of overweight youth and increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they are eating, they also help students develop healthy eating habits so that they can do better in school because they are more energized and alert. Programs like this have been shown to improve the overall health of the student body and will create the opportunity to develop a healthier generation.
When 20 percent of school-aged children are obese and our country is losing over $240 billion in diabetes related costs, we have to prioritize our investments and policy to improve student health and wellness. Congress must act now so our children can succeed.