Big Bird, Elmo to encourage kids to eat produce

Nov. 27, 2013, DCA Press

A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down “Sesame Street.”

Michelle Obama announced that the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational TV program will let the produce industry use Elmo, Big Bird, and Sesame Street’s other furry characters free of charge to market fruits and veggies to kids.

The goal is to get children who often turn up their noses at the sight of produce to eat more of it.

Under the arrangement, Sesame Workshop is waiving the licensing fee for its Muppet characters for two years.

As soon as next spring, shoppers and children accompanying them can expect to see their favorite Sesame Street characters on stand-alone signs and on stickers and labels on all types of produce regardless of whether it comes in a bag, a carton, or just its skin. Continue reading

First-ever census reveals growing popularity of Farm to School program

Oct. 22, 2013, The Washington Post

By Tim Carman

More than 40 percent of the U.S. public school districts that responded to a historic census said they were participating in a program that helps bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias. The percentage of participating schools was even higher in Maryland, Virginia, and the District, where the program has taken deep root.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first-ever census of school districts across the country revealed how popular the national Farm to School program has become in recent years: About 43 percent of U.S. school districts — or about 38,600 schools — bought local produce for their students during the 2011-2012 school year, investing more than $354 million in farms near their communities. Another 13 percent said they would be participating in the program “in the near future.” Continue reading

Improving school lunch by design

Oct. 16, 2013, The New York Times

By Courtney E. Martin

What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?

In spring 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District (S.F.U.S.D.) began a five-month collaboration with the design firm IDEO to re-imagine the school food system. This effort might not sound unique. Childhood obesity has become a hot topic, in large part thanks to the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and projects by high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters have aimed at getting fresh, healthy foods in schools.

In this case, however, the adults aren’t as concerned with what students are eating as they are with how they are eating.

“When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,” explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. “The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?” Continue reading

USDA: Small number of schools drop out of federal lunch program due to healthier requirements

Sept. 29, 2013, Daily Reporter

By Mary Clare Jalonick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.

The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.

Data the department is planning to release Sept. 30 shows that 80 percent of schools say they have already met the requirements, which went into place at the beginning of the 2012 school year. About a half dropped out of the program. Continue reading

School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar

Oct. 2, 2013, NBC Bay Area

By Eleanor Yang Su

Almost everything about a school cafeteria meal has a regulation. The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in breakfasts and lunches. It sets minimum standards for servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, milk, and meat.

But one widely used and often-overused product has no official limits: sugar.

As Congress faces increased scrutiny over subsidies to the sugar industry, nutritionists and anti-obesity crusaders are focusing on the amount of sugar in school meals – and asking whether regulations governing school lunches deliberately exclude limits on sugar to favor a powerful industry.

Recent research shows that sugar levels in school meals are more than double what is recommended for the general public. Elementary school lunch menus contain 115 percent of the recommended daily calories from added sugars and fats, according to a November study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. Middle school and high school lunch menus also are sugar- and fat-heavy, averaging between 59 and 74 percent of the recommended amounts. Continue reading

Mexico, with world’s top obesity rate, raises prices on soft drinks to fight it

Sept. 23, 2013, International Business Times

By Patricia Rey Mallén

It is a well-known fact that the United States is the country in the world with the largest obesity rate. But it isn’t anymore. A report by the United Nations revealed that the United States came in second to its southern neighbor, Mexico. The new data, published in July 2013, shows that 32.8 percent of Mexicans are overweight — a full percentage point over the number of Americans.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration has been going through an intense few months of political reforms, has begun taking measures to fight the trend. The first, taking a page from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, has attacked sugary drinks, which have been blamed for the burgeoning rate of overweight citizens. Continue reading

School cafeterias, vending machines trading sugar, fat for more healthful fare

Sept. 27, 2013, The Washington Post

By Lenny Bernstein

Any parent who has fixed a nutritious school lunch only to find it untouched in a backpack the next morning will be heartened by new federal rules that will take effect in schools nationwide in the fall of 2014. That’s when laws will require school vending machines, stores and “a la carte” lunch menus to provide only healthful foods. So if a child hits the cafeteria line for pizza, the cheese on that slice will be relatively low in fat and sodium and the crust probably will be made from whole grains. And snackers will find nuts, granola bars, and water in vending machines instead of candy bars, potato chips, and sugary sodas. A 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that children in the school breakfast program, many of whom eat school-provided lunches, consume as much as half their calories each day at school. A 2009 study showed that sugar-sweetened beverages add 112 calories to the average elementary school student’s daily diet. Continue reading

Alliance for a Healthier Generation and McDonald’s announce groundbreaking CGI commitment to promote balanced food and beverage choices

Sept. 26, 2013, The Wall Street Journal

McDonald’s is partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, to increase customers’ access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed choices in keeping with balanced lifestyles. President Bill Clinton, founder of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, Don Thompson, President and CEO of McDonald’s, and Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, announced the groundbreaking Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment today at the 2013 CGI Annual Meeting in New York City.

McDonald’s worked with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to develop a comprehensive plan for 20 of the restaurant chain’s largest markets. Continue reading

New initiative encourages water consumption

Sept. 12, 2013, Huffington Post

By Amanda L. Chan

The first lady wants you to drink more water.

On a call announcing Michelle Obama’s newest healthy living initiative Sept. 11, Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass explained that the White House is working with cities, private companies, and public taps to promote the message to “drink up.”

Participating companies include Brita, Poland Spring, Evian, Dasani, Voss and others, which will carry a “Drink Up” logo on their bottles, and participating cities include Chicago, Los Angeles County, Houston and, appropriately, Watertown, Wis., where the first lady is visiting Sept. 12 to kick off the initiative. Continue reading

University of NH promotes healthy eating with plates printed with modified USDA guidelines

Sept. 18, 2013, The Washington Post

They may not be binging on broccoli, but some University of New Hampshire (UNH) students are at least pausing before they fill up on fried food, thanks to dishware designed to remind them about healthy options.

Two years after the federal government abandoned the food pyramid as a symbol for healthful eating and adopted an image of a plate instead, the university has gone a step further by printing dietary guidelines directly on plates used in campus dining halls.

The so-called Wildcat Plates, named after the school’s mascot, offer a bit more detail than the “My Plate” graphic promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the USDA image shows a plate divided into four segments labeled “fruits,” ‘’vegetables,” ‘’grains,” and “proteins,” the Wildcat plate specifies “lean protein” and “whole grains” and offers suggestions such as “try whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa.” Continue reading