Introducing the D.C. Healthy Schools Act

One of our goals with "Little Citizens, Big Issues" is to showcase diverse voices and viewpoints from the community on issues affecting young children in the District. This post is by Kristin Roberts, community nutrition association at D.C. Hunger Solutions.

Momentum is building in Congress to expand funding for childhood nutrition programs to ensure that low-income children have access to healthy meals—both in and out of school. Meanwhile, the District is taking important steps toward addressing the twin problems of hunger and obesity among school-aged children.

Last month, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the Healthy Schools Act, a bold piece of legislation that will substantially improve the health, wellness, and nutrition of the 74,000 District children attending D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools, the great majority of whom qualify for free and reduced-price meals.  

When it goes into effect this fall, the Healthy Schools Act will expand access to school meals, improve the nutrition of school meals, eventually triple the amount of physical and health education students receive, and expand school-based health and wellness programs. What’s more, millions of federal dollars will flow into the District when more children participate in school meals.

One of the biggest and most dramatic improvements will be to school breakfast. All DCPS and charter schools will offer free breakfast to all students, regardless of income.  And in elementary schools where 40 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, breakfast will be served right in the classroom in schools—reducing the stigma and logistical barriers that often prevent children from taking advantage of school breakfast.

Currently, too many children in the District are skipping breakfast—a meal that helps children concentrate in school, helps improve academic performance, and can boost children’s nutrition and overall health.  Too often, though, families can't afford to provide good breakfasts at home every day – or the money to buy them at school.

In fact, between 2008 and 2009, over 40 percent of District households with children reported not having enough money in the past 12 months to buy food for their family.

The new law will also eliminate the reduced-price co-pay for lunch; raise nutrition standards for breakfast and lunch (such as offering more whole grains and fresh fruits and veggies); and introduce locally-grown produce when possible.

The passage of the Healthy Schools Act is itself a huge victory for all children in the District, but there is lots of work to do to ensure that schools have the capacity and resources they need to implement it fully. 

You can get involved at your child’s (or neighborhood) school.  To learn more, contact D.C. Hunger Solutions at (202) 986-2200 x3041 or email me at kroberts@dchunger.org.  

You can learn more about the child nutrition bills pending in Congress and take action on the FRAC (Food Research and Action Center) site

 

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