June 24, 2015

Costs of Inaction Should Be Focus of House Education and Workforce Committee Hearing

Statement by Daniel Brito, Union of Concerned Scientists

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 24, 2015) – The House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing today to evaluate the costs of improved nutrition standards for school meals introduced as part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of compliance.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support, aligning school meals with science-based nutrition standards. The law successfully puts more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less salt and fat, on student’s lunch trays.

This guaranteed access to healthy foods through school meals is especially critical for children from low-income families. UCS released a report, “Lessons from the Lunchroom,” earlier this year analyzing the eating behaviors of thousands of children nationwide and found that children participating in the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers not participating in the program.

UCS also found that 127,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease could be prevented every year if Americans ate recommended portions of fruits and vegetables, with annual health care savings of $13 billion. Since children’s eating behaviors are formed early on – through repeated exposure to healthy food – school lunch is an important way to introduce fruits and vegetables.

Below is a statement by Daniel Brito, senior Washington representative with UCS’s Food & Environment Program:

“Legislators today are discussing the cost of compliance with the higher nutrition standards. Currently, about 95 percent of all schools comply with the standards. However, the cost of compliance isn’t the issue. The cost of inaction is.

“Providing children with school lunch trays full of processed foods, devoid of fruits and vegetables – which some legislators would like to see – means signing our kids up for a lifetime of costly and potentially deadly medical conditions. Diet-related cardiovascular diseases are the leading killers of Americans and are expected to cost taxpayers $818 billion annually by 2030. This means more than tripling the cost of cardiovascular expenditures in just 15 years.

“The bottom line is that American taxpayers can’t afford not to maintain the higher nutrition standards.

“And healthier school nutrition standards work. Children are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result. Plus 91 percent of parents overwhelmingly support higher nutritional standards in schools.

“For many of these students, school meals may be the only healthy meal they receive all day. Given dramatic increases in childhood obesity – and the resulting health consequences – we need to provide children with the most nutritious meals possible at school. As the only chance for fruits and vegetables throughout the day for some, school meals are a lifeline for children, particularly those from low-income families.

“The costs of inaction are exorbitant, far higher than compliance costs. Focusing on compliance is a short-term issue that ignores the morass of health and economic problems that would await us in the long term.

“Legislators, invest in children’s health and their school meals – it might just save their lives.”