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Making Kids Healthier One Plate at a Time

United States Department of Agriculture

The USDA's new and improved guide to healthy eating.

In the United States obesity is a growing health problem not only for adults but for children. In fact according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 17% of children and adolescents in the United States, ages 2 through 19 are obese.  Children with these types of weight issues early on are more likely to suffer from a number of serious health problems later in life. Recently, the federal government has created new policies to help stop this growing epidemic.

The United States Department of Agriculture released a new tool to help encourage healthy eating. My Plate will replace the food pyramid as the official nutritious eating guide. Rather than center on the number of servings you should have, My Plate concentrates on a single meal, quartering the dish into ideal portion sizes. Additionally, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was signed by President Obama in December. This new law provides additional funding to improve the quality of food served in schools and increase children’s access to drinking water during meal times, a healthier choice over sweetened milk. It will work in conjunction with Lets Move!, a national effort headed by the first lady to encourage exercise in communities across the country.

With these new tools local governments now have the ability to empower a healthier generation of children. Unfortunately, many school lunches do not yet mirror the healthy eating plate or even its predecessor the food pyramid.  For example, in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel organized for him and the Chicago Board of Education to partake in a typical student breakfast at local elementary schools. What they found was a meal filled with sugars and fats rather than heart healthy foods.

While there is still much work to done, change has begun in some towns. In Williamsport, PA local school districts have replaced junk food with fruits and vegetables, placing a heavy emphasis on nutrition education for elementary school children whose habits are still malleable. They have also started growing school gardens to help introduce students to unfamiliar but nutritious vegetables.

In other school districts the health benefits of these new mandates come at a higher cost than before. Fulton, MO and Grand Rapids, MI are two places which have voiced their concerns about the cost of this new law. The pricing-equity provision has created the most problems for some districts where their budgets just do not match the guidelines established by the federal government.

It will be a difficult task to balance these new healthy policies with the cost restraints of tight budget year but the end result could pay off. A healthier generation of children will translate into a healthier generation of adults, who will have fewer health problems and better understanding of what a nutritious meal really is.

You can learn more about making changes in your community through ICMA’s Healthy Communities Group . You can also reference case studies and other documents  to help establish your own healthy eating policies.