Although the federal government updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, shockingly the nutritional standards behind the National Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program have been stagnant since 1995.
But change is on the horizon. Based on recommendations from a new report by the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is embarking on a nutritional overhaul of school meal programs.
In assessing the food and nutritional needs of children and teens, the IOM panel recommended limiting calories of meals based on age level, reducing sodium levels for a typical lunch to 740 milligrams and including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on school cafeteria menus.
Aligning school lunch program nutrition standards with the national dietary guidelines will curb obesity and help the 11 million children who eat school breakfast and more than 31 children who eat school lunch develop healthier eating habits.
Studies have shown that children who are obese between the ages of 10 and 13 have an 80 percent chance of being obese as an adult. The good news is only 1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Teaching adolescents to adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise is an effective solution.
Now the federal government just needs to better align school physical education programs with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service fitness recommendations that children and adults exercise at least five times a week for 30 minutes or more.