Healthy School Meals: A Step Forward for Latino Children
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) applauds the USDA’s new nutritional guidelines for school meals. Many Latino children across the nation will be able to enjoy a variety of nutritious options as they enter the new school year this fall. As the number of Latinos in the U.S. grows, so does the number of children who live in food insecurity households and at risk of developing health problems such as obesity.
As obesity and food insecurity become national concerns, more attention has been placed on the type of foods and drinks available at school cafeterias. In the past years, we have seen a decrease in sugary drinks and vending machines thanks to parental advocacy and community involvement. Yet, obesity and food insecurity continue to be a great problem, especially among disadvantaged communities of color.
According to a study done by the Department of Agriculture, Hispanic households have substantially higher rates of food insecurity (26.9%) than the national average (14.7%). Many Latino families tend to live in neighborhoods that cannot offer healthy foods at an affordable price. Lack of money and resources often force families to turn to cheaper and fast food options which in turn have long-term consequences on their health. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that “38.2 percent of Hispanic children are overweight or obese compared to 35.9 percent of black children and 29.3 percent of white children.”
The USDA’s new guidelines make a significant positive impact in the lives of Latino children. In 2011, almost 32 million children participated in some type of school meal program. According to the Urban Institute, “Hispanic children represent over one third of all low-income uninsured children who participate in these programs.”
Research shows that children who take part in federally funded school breakfast programs have a better overall diet quality than those who eat breakfast elsewhere or none at all.
In addition to offering more fruits, grains, and veggies at lunch time, the USDA guidelines also require schools to offer meals that meet specific calorie ranges for each age group. This specific requirement is of significance because it seeks to combat the overweight problems that kids of all backgrounds are facing.
Studies show an association between students who participate in school breakfast programs and lower Body Mass Index (BMI). For many children living in poverty or in low-income neighborhoods, school meals might be the only meal of the day for them. The new USDA guidelines will ensure that children who participate in these programs receive the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy life.
~Why we want to share this post~
LULAC strives to improve the physical, behavioral, and mental health and well-being of Hispanics in the United States through legislative advocacy and implementation of programs. In an effort to reduce obesity among vulnerable populations, LULAC’s Latinos Living Healthy Initiative seeks to enable both children and adults of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic locations to have access to nutrition information, healthy and affordable foods, and safe spaces to engage in physical activities.
In 2009, over 33% of Hispanic children compared to 20% national average lived in poverty. Poverty is the main cause of hunger, and hunger is associated with poor health as well as problems with behavior and development. We understand that combating food insecurity, child hunger, and obesity requires collective efforts and that is why we acknowledge the new USDA nutritional guidelines for school meals. We know that they will help improve the health of many children across the nation. Let us begin this new school year on the right step towards healthier lives.