SURVEY: 75 Percent of Districts Want More Money for School Food, But SNA Still Won’t Ask For It

It’s National School Lunch Week and it’s no surprise that the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and its allies are taking this opportunity to press their case for gutting federal nutritional requirements that would make school food healthier.

SNA logoThe National School Board Association (NSBA), long aligned with the SNA on these nutritional roll-backs, yesterday released the results of a survey of 650 school leaders which reportedly found that, since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act regulations went into effect, “83.7 percent of school districts saw an increase in plate waste, 81.8 percent had an increase in cost, and 76.5 percent saw a decrease in participation by students.”

The NSBA doesn’t share its survey methodology so we have no idea whether the 650 individuals surveyed were self-selected (and therefore might have more of an axe to grind over school food regulations) or whether the phrasing of the survey questions in any way skewed the results.

But let’s take the NSBA survey at face value for a moment.

Amid the disturbing data about plate waste and lowered participation, which will surely garner a lot of media attention, an interesting statistic emerges.  According to the survey, a whopping “75 percent of school leaders encourage an increase in federal funding for school districts to comply with the new standards,” while 15% fewer of those surveyed support the “flexibility” (SNA’s favorite buzzword for: “gutting of regulations”) which the SNA is now doggedly pursuing on Capitol Hill via its high-powered lobbyists.

Ironically enough, in an “urgent message” SNA sent to its 55,000 members this week to discourage them from signing an open letter supporting healthier meal standards, the organization reassured school food professionals that it welcomes their “thoughts and concerns.”  But now a survey conducted by SNA’s own ally clearly identifies a “concern” of fully three-quarters of the school food professionals surveyed:  they would like more funding for healthier school meals.

So why isn’t the SNA, their only voice on Capitol Hill, doing anything about it?

Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the SNA, previously told me that the SNA made the decision long ago to refrain from asking Congress for more money:

Although SNA is emphasizing the extremely limited funding under which school meal programs must operate, members of Congress and their staff on both sides of the aisle from key authorizing committees have made it extremely clear that additional funding will not be available for child nutrition programs as part of reauthorization.

I agree that getting more funding out of Congress would be very hard.  It always is.  But the SNA — before it launched its misguided effort to roll back healthier school meal standards – was once aligned with many widely respected voices which would have strongly supported such a request, including the American Medical Association, the Children’s Defense Fund and the retired, four-star military leaders behind Mission Readiness, to name only a few.  The association also would have been backed by a still-hugely popular First Lady, one with a powerful megaphone.  It could have relied on a recent peer-reviewed study finding that kids are actually adjusting well to healthier school food, data which supports staying the course, instead of putting itself in the incredibly awkward position of having to dispute that study.  And, perhaps most importantly, it could have come to Congress armed with new data showing that the vast majority of American parents — on both sides of the political divide – want healthier school food.

Instead, SNA squandered all of that political capital and took the easy way out.  It is now deeply entrenched in its strategy to roll back school meal standards, an effort that’s likely to intensify in the coming year as the school food law comes up for reauthorization in Congress.  If Republicans, many of whom are allied with SNA in this effort, win control of the Senate this fall, we may well see decades of work on school food reform go up in smoke.  That this outcome would be the handiwork of the very people entrusted to feed our children makes it all the more distressing.

If you are a current or former SNA member who believes your leadership is on the wrong track, please take a moment to sign and share this letter.

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New Study: Parents Support Restrictions on The Marketing of Food to Kids

I’m catching up on news items from last week and wanted to share an important new study from The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity regarding how parents view food industry marketing practices targeted toward their children, a study which, according to the Rudd Center, is the first of its kind.

Surveying 2,454 parents with children aged 2 to 17, the Rudd Center found that:

Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media. The surveyed parents were highly aware of the “pester power” of food marketing and its effects on their children’s food preferences.

Photo credit: Yale Rudd Center

The report also found relatively high parental support for a variety of policies to promote healthier eating among children, including some restrictions on the advertising of food to kids.  Specifically, the report found that:

The majority of parents surveyed . . . endorsed policies to restrict food marketing to children, with highest support for prohibiting advertising on school buses (69%) and requiring companies to fund advertising for healthy and unhealthy foods equally (68%). Parents also approved of regulations to limit specific types of unhealthy food marketing to children under 12, including advertising/sponsorships in schools (65%), mobile marketing (65%), TV commercials (63%), viral marketing (62%), and internet advertising (61%).

There is much more to be learned from this groundbreaking study, including the environmental factors parents cite most often as obstacles to healthy eating and analyses of the responses along ethnic and political lines.  The entire report is found here.

Given that food industry self-regulation in this area has been almost comically weak, and given how hard (and successfully) the industry lobbied last year against purely voluntary federal advertising guidelines, it’s clear that only political pressure from consumers and parents will bring about real reforms.  In quantifying parents’ views about these issues for the first time, the Rudd Center brings us a step closer to making those reforms a reality.

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A Reader’s Food-In-The-Classroom Success Story

Last week I shared a reader’s account of a teacher who used candy and other junk food to teach kindergarteners the ABCs and who was oblivious to two reported food allergies in her classroom.  But the story had a happy ending:  after the parent met with the teacher, the junk food program was dropped and the teacher was better informed about the food allergies.

Today I want to share with you another reader success story pertaining to food in the classroom.  Here it is:

Hi Bettina,

Just wanted to share a small success story, and thank you for your work on The Lunch Tray, which inspired me to take a stand for healthier food at my kids’ school.

I have always been bothered by candy rewards in the classroom and donuts and cupcakes served at school birthday celebrations. After reading every post on the subject on your blog, I set up a meeting with my school’s principal and PTA president, armed with your Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto. They agreed with me in principle but were very reluctant to change the policy because food is such a sensitive issue for parents. The principal suggested a survey from a grassroots parent group to see if there would be support in the community, so I formed a Wellness Committee with like-minded moms and we sent out a survey on school birthday celebrations to parents. We had a clear majority in favor of eliminating birthday treats.

We gave the survey results to the administration, along with recommendations for alternative ways to celebrate birthdays based on parent feedback, and they implemented a new policy before the beginning of the school year. Parents are no longer allowed to bring in food for birthdays. Instead, the school has come up with simple and meaningful ways to honor kids’ birthdays. Since it was clear that parents supported a healthier school environment, the school also adopted a no candy in the classroom policy.

Naturally, there has been a mixed response and some parents are angry.  Hopefully things will calm down and our committee will be able to focus on positive changes we can make in the school, rather than just take things away.

Anyway, thank you for giving me the tools to make a small difference.  I really enjoy your blog and have been following silently for a while now.

This story made me feel so good, knowing that the discussions here on The Lunch Tray and my “manifesto” helped inspire a parent to make significant, positive changes.

And in turn this reader inspired me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’ve had mixed success reducing classroom treats at my own kid’s school and given that my son is going to graduate next year, I was starting to wonder if it was worth trying anymore.  But last night i sent an email to our elementary school principal asking for permission to send out my own survey to quantify parents’ views on birthday treats and food rewards, as well as chocolate milk and a la carte junk food  in the cafeteria.  Perhaps this data will help me in my efforts, just as it helped this reader.

Clearly we can all learn from and support each other in this forum, so if you have your own food-in-the-classroom story to share, feel free to email it to me at bettina at thelunchtray dot com.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 4,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Really? 20% of Kids Surveyed Think Pasta Comes from an Animal

Well, that’s apparently true in Australia, anyway.  But would the results of a food literacy survey here in the U.S. be any different?

We’ve talked a lot on The Lunch Tray about the sharp decline in food knowledge and cooking skills in America, a country which ranks last among 20 surveyed nations in terms of time spent in the kitchen.  And who can forget Jamie Oliver’s first season of “Food Revolution,” in which kids in Huntington, West Virginia couldn’t identify common fruits and vegetables by sight?

These issues matter.  When we turn the cooking over entirely to restaurants and the makers of processed foods, we gain convenience at the expense of reasonable portion size and control over ingredients.   The adverse effect on our health, at least as measured by rising obesity rates, is clear.

As I discussed at length in this post a while back, there are no easy fixes for widespread food illiteracy.  While I certainly support the idea of public schools playing a role, I’m not sure how much they can accomplish during this era of No Child Left Behind and budget cuts.  Still, though, it’s worth checking out this new infographic from the Food Revolution demanding compulsory food education.

Guess where 27% of Australian kids think yogurt comes from?

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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