Johnson opposes HHFKA
Published: Thursday, December 13th, 2012
There has been a lot of attention in recent months about how the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which became effective July 1, has been implemented and if it is effective.
President Barack Obama signed the act into law, which was created and presented by First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move organization, and approved by the House with a vote of 264-157.
The goal is to improve child nutrition, end childhood hunger and fight obesity. But critics, including parents and students, complain that the new regulations leave students more hungry than healthy. There are YouTube music videos, talk show topics and newscast segments all focused on the topic.
More than 31 million students attending public schools eat school-provided lunches and more than 12 million students eat breakfast. HHFKA includes the first changes to these programs in more than 15 years. These changes include limiting calories counts to 650 calories for students grades K-5, 700 for grades 6-8 and 850 for grades 9-12.
“I agree with what they are doing, but it does depend on the child, their condition and stage in development,” said Stella Watson, a nutritionist from Keystone. “Less and less food is served at home and families are eating out more. Children really need adequate nutrition and I think it’s great schools are doing something to balance that.”
According to Watson, a balanced lunch would consist of good proteins, two complex carbohydrates and one to two servings of vegetables. A healthy breakfast, which will change under HHFKA guidelines next school year, would have two ounces of protein, fruit and a starch, such as oatmeal or potatoes.
“Eggs would be the best source for protein, but sausage, bacon and hotdogs do not count as protein,” Watson said. “Many schools serve those items and call it protein. It’s fat, not protein.”
Watson also believes milk should be served three times a day as a source of calcium and there should be no simple carbohydrates in the meals.
“Americans do not get enough calcium and milk is the quickest way to do so,” she said.
Critics cite HHFKA as assuming all children have identical protein and calorie requirements. Nutritionists and dieticians have spoken out against the act, saying not all proteins are interchangeable and identical and the act fails to account for variance in activity levels, gender and height differences.
Sen. Tim Johnson has also spoken against the act and recently sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, regarding the topic. Johnson is concerned with the lack of flexibility South Dakota schools have in implementing the changes.
“We support the promotion of nutrition principals in America’s schools; however, the children, parents and school systems attempting to comply with these new school meal standards have found they lack the flexibility necessary to meet the nutrition needs of many growing boys and girls,” Johnson said in the letter. “(Many children) claim the new lunchtime calorie restrictions leave them hungry in the afternoon and one student no longer gets enough to eat to sustain him through two hours of football practice.”
Johnson also said the new standards do not affect all school districts equally, as rural schools and low-income students are especially challenged. Cooks now must divert time from food preparation to administrative paperwork and research to comply with the new regulations. In fact, many schools cannot afford more than one cook or a dietician on staff.
In the letter, Johnson asks for responses regarding a number of topics, including calorie limits and protein.
“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans clarify that the total number of calories a person requires each day varies depending on factors, including age, gender, height, weight and level of physical activity,” he said. “Yet the new meal pattern mandates a maximum calorie limit based strictly on a student’s grade level in school. Is it appropriate to restrict a student’s caloric intake without any consideration for gender, height, weight or level of physical activity?”
Under HHFKA, high school students receive 750 -850 calories for lunch, as well as reduced sweet and fatty foods. However, growing and active teens require anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 calories a day to adequately meet their growth and energy needs.
“The new meal pattern permits 10 ounces of protein (or protein equivalent) per week for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 12 ounces for students ninth through 12th grade,” Johnson said. “However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates children ages 4-18 require 10-30 percent of their diet from protein.”
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein for children ages 1-3 is 13 grams of protein daily, children ages 4-8 need 19 grams and children ages 9-13 need 34 grams. High school-aged girls need 46 grams a day while boys need 52 grams a day. Some examples of high-protein foods include a three-ounce piece of meat, which has about 21 grams of protein.
Johnson argues that since high school-aged students receive a maximum of two ounces of meat a day, the nation’s children are not getting proper nutrition.
Sen. John Thune, as well as nine other state senators, also signed the letter against HHFKA.
Last Friday, Vilsack responded to the criticism by doing away with daily and weekly limits of grains and meats.
“This flexibility is provided to allow more time for the development of products that get within the new standards while granting schools additional menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,” he said in a letter.
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