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New school year, healthier lunch

ADA supports new school meal standards

Washington—What’s for lunch this school year? Healthier meals, say the ADA and other nutrition advocates.

Children will have more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on their school lunch trays and less salt and unhealthy fats, thanks to updated school meal standards and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act behind them, which is shorthand for a coalescence of congressional, U.S. Department of Agriculture and interest group advocacy that included the American Dental Association.

“Your body is a complex machine,” the ADA says at the MouthHealthy website promoting the new school lunch standards, diet and dental health and other age-relevant information for a MouthHealthy life. “The foods you choose and how often you eat them can affect your general health and the health of your teeth and gums, too. If you consume too many sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks or non-nutritious snacks, you could be at risk for tooth decay. Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease, but the good news is that it is entirely preventable.”

The ADA long supported the legislation passed by Congress, which encouraged the first USDA update in 15 years of National School Lunch Program nutrition standards.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in more than 100,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2011, says the USDA website.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed USDA to update the NSLP meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new meal pattern goes into effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year and increases the availability of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the school menu. New dietary specifications set specific calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Other meal enhancements include gradual reductions in the sodium content of the meals (sodium targets must be reached by SY 2014-15, SY 2017-18 and SY 2022-23). While school lunches must meet Federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

The law also provides additional funding for school meals through several provisions including the first increase in years in reimbursement rates above inflation and reasonable price requirements for school lunches and a la carte items, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Beginning Oct. 1, schools will be eligible to receive an additional six cents for each healthy lunch they serve.

The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity and NANA’s ad hoc food marketing workgroup are urging parent, teacher, school administration and community support for the new school meal standards. The ADA is a member of both the NANA coalition and workgroup. The Association also joined a dental coalition http://www.ada.org/news/7391.aspx asking the administration July 23 to commission a U.S. Surgeon General's report on relationships between specific dietary practices and oral diseases.