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From loving parents to dedicated school nutritionists, concern is quickly spreading throughout our country over Congress’ changes to the proposed new USDA School Meal Nutrition Guidelines in the final version of a spending bill released earlier this week.

The goal of the proposed nutrition guidelines, which are required through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that Congress passed last year, is to make school meals healthier by increasing fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fat free or low fat milk, while lowering sodium, sugar and other additives. These nutrition standards are founded on the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendations based on the US Dietary Guidelines. The latest revisions diminish these efforts by counting tomato paste on pizza as a serving of vegetables, and delaying requests to increase whole grains and decrease sodium.

At LiveWell Colorado, we are extremely disappointed that the revisions to the school meal nutrition standards that the USDA proposed earlier this year are being compromised, and with it the health of our children.

We share the emotions of those who are baffled and upset that Congress wants to take a step back when our country – with the support of the Administration – was just starting to make meaningful strides in improving our kids’ access to fresh, healthy foods in schools. While the proposed revisions were not a magic bullet in addressing our country’s growing childhood obesity epidemic, they did constitute a step in the right direction.

LiveWell Colorado believes that we all share the responsibility of preventing and reducing childhood obesity through promoting and ensuring healthy eating and active living in the places our children live, learn and play. As the place where children spend the majority of their formative years, schools play a vital role in the nutrition children receive and the eating habits that children form. We know that improving school food is a sustainable and effective way to offer improved access to healthy foods for Colorado’s children.

Even though Congress may be unraveling school meal nutrition standards on the federal level, the good news is that these standards can still be implemented on the local level. In fact, numerous schools districts throughout Colorado, such as Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Adams 14, are already incorporating many of the proposed recommendations. We are thrilled to see these schools proactively working to provide more fresh foods and healthier options and applaud their enlightened efforts.

Likewise, we are extremely proud of the 63 school districts and 280 nutrition staff that have taken part in Culinary Boot Camps hosted by LiveWell Colorado, which equip participants with the training, empowerment and inspiration necessary to incorporate scratch cooking into their own school food programs. Through this program, participants are learning how to meet the IOM’s nutrition standards and showing their dedication to the health of our children.

LiveWell Colorado stands ready to support local efforts to improve school meal nutrition standards throughout our state. Together – as parents, school officials and community leaders – we can set an example of true dedication to the health and well-being of our children.