House of Representatives Passes School Nutrition Bill

State Representative Sean Garballey joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing legislation that would ban the sale of unhealthy competitive foods and drinks in Massachusetts public schools.

The bill – modeled after the recommendations of a 2007 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report – calls for a ban on unhealthy competitive foods and beverages that do not meet scientifically based nutritional standards and are not part of federal meal programs. It would also require schools to sell non-fried foods and vegetables at any location where foods are sold.

The bill’s provisions will apply to public elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The legislation does not prohibit high school students from purchasing food sold off school ground during breaks. Additionally, parents will still be allowed to give their children any type of food to bring to school.

Other provisions of the bill include: continuing education of school nurses, nutrition and exercise instruction in schools, collection and reporting of obesity trends and the establishment of a farm to school program developed by the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Agricultural Resources.

The legislation establishes nutrition standards as set by the IOM’s April 2007 report, “Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth.” This groundbreaking report was commissioned by Congress and was written in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in order to make recommendations for the appropriate nutritional content of foods sold in competition with federal meal programs. 

The American Heart Association has confirmed that childhood obesity is one of the most critical public health issues facing our nation today, threatening to reverse the last half century’s gains in reducing cardiovascular disease and related deaths. One-third of children aged two to five years are either at risk for being overweight or are already overweight. In Massachusetts, 29% of middle school students are overweight or obese. Studies show that these children are more likely than their peers to be absent from school, experience low self esteem and become obese adults.

Obesity-related diseases such as Type II diabetes and heart disease will ultimately require life-long chronic disease management that can significantly reduce quality of life while increasing health care costs. In fact, from 1979 to 1999, obesity-associated hospital costs tripled for children and youth.

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