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First Lady Announces Healthier US School Meals

With rates of childhood obesity and hunger on the rise nationwide, the U.S. government has announced new rules for healthier school meals.

First Lady Michelle Obama announced new Department of Agriculture standards for school meals that double the portions of fruits and vegetables, cut the fat and salt, and use more whole grains, rather than white flour or white rice.

“When we send our kids to school, we have a right to expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods we’re trying to keep from them when they’re at home,” the first lady said.

The aim is to tackle two growing problems in the United States and around the world.
On the one hand, rates of childhood obesity have nearly tripled in the U.S. since 1980. On the other, two-thirds of the 32 million children in the lunch line rely on government-subsidized or free school meals - more than ever before.

“For many kids whose families are struggling, school meals can be their main or only source of nutrition for the entire day. So when we serve higher quality food in our schools, we’re not just fighting childhood obesity. We’re taking the important steps that are needed to fight childhood hunger as well," Mrs. Obama said.

The new standards get a round of applause from nutrition advocates like Margo Wootan with the private Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It’s terrific. The new standards from USDA are a very important advancement for our nation’s kids. It’ll mean healthier school lunches for 32 million kids around the country,” Wootan said.

Wootan says it will cost more to use more fruits and vegetables, leaner meats and whole grains. Schools will get more government funding to help cover the cost. Wootan says it will pay off in the long run.

“That investment is so important. We either pay now or we pay later. Because obesity costs this country about $150 billion a year,” Wootan said.

So while the students at Parklawn got a special visit from the First Lady, school children around the country will get a longer-lasting treat: better meals on their cafeteria trays.

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    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.