By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Re-tooled language in "Healthy Schools" legislation scheduled for a public hearing before the D.C. Council this week would require city schools to provide parents each year with a measurement of the body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio of every child, as well as an estimate of the amount of exercise each child engages in. It also calls on city schools to consider extending the school day in order for children to have more time for physical activity, and would offer grants to schools that commit to making students more active.
Schools would also be required to send parents information in English and Spanish explaining how to interpret unhealthy body mass and waist-to-hip information and what steps can be taken to address weight problems.
Drafters of the legislation last week backed away from strict nutrition standards recommended by the Institute of Medicine that would require increased portion sizes of vegetables served in school meals, saying schools cannot guarantee the quality of vegetables served in cafeterias or that students won't throw them in the trash.
Instead, the legislation embraces requirements set forth in the U.S. Department of Agriculture "HealthierUS School Challenge," which establishes several different levels of stringency in school food nutrition.
The "Healthy Schools" bill would require all D.C. public school to adopt the "gold" level of the USDA program, meaning school cafeterias would have to offer 1/4-cup servings of dark green or orange vegetables three or more days per week, and cooked dry beans or peas once perweek. Schools would also be required to offer a different fruit, either fresh, frozen, canned, dried or 100 percent juice, every day of the week, but 100 percent fruit juice could be counted as fruit only once per week. At least one serving of whole-grain food would be offered each day.
The new bill also drops an attempt to create detailed nutrition standards for foods served outside the reqular food line in school cafeterias--so-called "competitive" foods--as well as those sold in vending machines and in school stores. Again, the "HealthierUS School Challenge" standards would apply. Total fat in those foods could be no more than 35 percent of calories, trans fat must be less than .5 grams per serving, saturated fat less than 10 percent and sugar no more than 35 percent by weight.
The only beverages allowed would be low-fat or skim milk, 100 percent fruit juice with no sweeteners and water, meaning no sugary sodas, sports drinks or ice teas. The standards would not apply to foods and beverages offered at official after-school events.
Among the other major features of the new "Healthy Schools" draft:
* Minimum and maximum calorie limits for school breakfast and lunch at all grade levels.
* Zero trans fats is school meals.
* Random testing of school meals to ensure that nutrition standards are being met.
* An additional 10 cents in funding for each breakfast and 10 cents for each lunch.
*Full funding for students who qualify for reduced-price lunch.
* Offer breakfast in the classroom in all elementary schools where at least 40 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price meals, and other alternative methods of serving breakfast in qualifying middle and high schools.
* Phasing in minimum levels of exercise over a five-year period for elementary and middle-school students, from 30 minutes per week to 150 minutes per week for children in Kindergarten through grade five, and from 45 minutes per week to 225 minutes per week for children in grades six through eight. Sources say the demand for more physical activity is one area where the legislation is meeting some resitance, because it might cut into class time. The most recent draft calls on schools to "seek to increase physical activity by considering extending the school day."
As part of better nutrition, the bill requires schools to incorporate local farm products in school meals "whenever possible" and would fund a five-cent bonus for lunches that include local produce. It also calls for a school food gardening program.
5 days ago