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Children can eat as much as half their daily calories while at school, making their food and beverage options during the day a huge factor in determining their health.

 Unfortunately, for some 30 years, our nation turned a blind eye to nutrition standards in schools, most notably the “competitive foods and beverages,” those sold outside of school meal programs, through a la carte lines, vending machines and school stores.

In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 set in motion updates to these nutrition standards but, in the meantime, childhood obesity rates tripled—nearly one-third of American children and teens are currently obese or overweight.

Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working with schools across the country to make long overdue changes to nutrition standards for foods available in schools.

The good news is that the proposed competitive food standards look good.  Under the new rules, schools would sell naturally nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat and low-fat dairy products, and limit calories, fat, sugar and sodium in snack foods and beverages.  The better news is that this is just a proposal – parents can and should urge USDA by April 9 to strengthen competitive food standards even more.

We don’t have a silver bullet to our obesity problem—our nation is big and every community and person is different. The nation also needs to look at the physical activity side of the equation—as it seems children have gotten less and less access to recess and play while at school.

That said, schools, parents and children need to be supported by their communities. If a child has no access to safe parks or even streets with sidewalks, how can we expect him or her to go outside if they have to dodge violence or speeding cars? If a child spends most of his time at school, yet can’t get fresh fruit or produce, how can we expect him or her to be healthy and alert?

Our nation is only as strong as the next generation. Study after study has shown that healthy children do better in school and children living in states with stronger nutrition standards tend to put on less weight. One step to ensuring this generation of children isn’t the first to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents is through increased access to healthy foods.

Parents can rest a bit easier and raise a healthier child who does better in school if they can be confident that their child has healthy food options throughout the school day.

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