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ASFSA Statement on Nutrition and Policy Gap Analysis

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ASFSA Statement on Nutrition
and Policy Gap Analysis

WASHINGTON, D.C., (September 19, 2001) – The American School Food Service Association shares the belief of others in the nutrition community that the gap between what we know about diet and nutrition and what people actually eat is a significant public policy issue. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, actual consumptions is woefully short of that target.  We believe that it is appropriate for the government to address this problem, particularly the environment in schools as it impacts nutrition, activity and health.

In the eight years between the first School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA) in 1993 and the second study released this year by the United States Department of Agriculture, schools have made significant progress in improving school meals.  According to SNDA II (2001), “roughly two-thirds of all NSLP menus offered more than the two fruit and/or vegetable choices required under the food-based menu planning systems.  More than one-quarter of all menus included five or more fruit and/or vegetable choices.”

Equally interesting is the change in school meals related to fat and saturated fat..  Whereas in 1991-92 only 34% of all elementary schools participating in the National School Lunch Program even offered meals which meet the dietary guidelines for fat and saturated fat, 82% did in the 1998-99 study period.  In secondary schools the change was from 71% to 91%.  The problem is the gap between what is being offered and what is being consumed.  Of the meals actually served to students (what students select from what is offered), only 19% of all schools met these dietary guidelines.

The message in these numbers is that school cafeterias are making a significant effort to improve what is being offered to children.  But we as a society are not being effective in promoting that message with enough urgency as to change children’s behaviors.  The barrage of media messages promoting less healthy alternatives is overwhelming our efforts to promote healthier eating including increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.

On the other hand, the situation in schools outside of the cafeteria is dismal.  The growth of food sales on campuses, largely of less nutritious foods, other than food served as part of the National School Lunch Program, is contributing to the epidemic of obesity in children today.  A front page story in the New York Times on Sunday, September 9, discussed the growing conflict between nutrition policy and economic reality for schools.

ASFSA believes that the gap between what is the consensus on good nutrition and what is reality for too many of America’s children is a legitimate public policy question. The long-term economic impact of diet related diseases which will afflict children who are obese is enormous, far surpassing the cost of addressing these problems today. 

For us there are two policy areas that need to be addressed today.  First is the need to develop a cohesive national program of education and promotion specifically targeted at children to help them learn to make better choices for a lifetime of good health. Such a program should include school-based and community-based programs. Second is the need to expand the federal government’s authority to establish guidelines on what foods can be sold on school campuses during the school day. Considering the current investment in school meal programs and future healthcare costs from obesity related diseases, this is an appropriate discussion for policy makers to have.

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