ON THE MENU
What do food service companies serve Baystate students for lunch?
An unhealthy status quo
The National School Lunch (NSL) program was established 75 years ago out of the concern that too many American children were undernourished. While free-and-reduced school lunch remains a critical program to ensure that all children have access to food, we know now that food security does not always mean nutrition security. Today, school food has become a business that often puts profit over children's health. Click here for sample menu items being served in Massachusetts Schools.
Where once children lacked access to adequate calories and sources of protein, now most Massachusetts children overconsume calorie-dense and nutrient-poor food products. These food products have been linked to chronic disease and are overrepresented on school lunch menus: think chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, frozen pizza, hot dogs, deli meat. At the same time, 9 out of 10 Massachusetts children under-consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins high in fiber and other critical nutrients.
The Massachusetts Healthy School Lunch Coalition has the power to change that.
Unhealthy menus, unhealthy children
You do not need to be a nutrition expert to know eating ultra-processed, nutrient-poor food every day is bad for children's health and has long-term consequences. As dietary patterns have worsened over the past thirty years, so too has children's health.
Since 2000, type-2 diabetes has increased over 30% in children and adolescents.
Obesity rates have risen
3x in children and 4x in adolescents over the past 30 years.
1 in 5 children have high cholesterol, traditionally an adult condition
"This generation of children could be the first in the history of the United States to live less healthful & shorter lives than their parents."
Dr. David S. Ludwig, Director of the Obesity Program at Children's Hospital Boston
Our work is about more than just what's on the menu.
It's about the health and wellbeing of our children, families, communities, and Commonwealth.
There are few things more important to our children than a healthy, equitable, and liveable future. To guarantee their health now and into the future, we must ensure the quality of school food is the priority.
Through our work, the Massachusetts Healthy School Lunch Coalition has the opportunity to:
Every time we feed children, it's an opportunity to teach them about nutrition and build healthy habits. Parents working hard to ensure their family eats a balanced diet shouldn't be undermined by food companies that profit from serving unhealthy foods. Just as importantly, children who don't have access to healthy food at home develop eating patterns and health outcomes based on what they're served at school. The HSL bill calls to replace ultra-processed food products with healthful foods, and declares every March 21st "Massachusetts Child Nutrition Day" to teach all children about healthy eating—starting with what's on their lunch plate.
Build healthy habits
For a long time, the conversation about school food has been rightly focused on food security. While food access remains a critical priority, the rapid rise of diet-related disease highlights that nutrition security is increasingly urgent. Our children deserve better than the nutrient-poor, calorie-rich foods being served to them by companies whose only interest is profit. We must ensure food security guarantees nutrition security by replacing ultra-processed foods with healthful, whole foods that are accessible and affordable to all.
Guarantee nutrition security
Each year Massachusetts spends upwards of $15.4 billion Medicaid dollars treating chronic lifestyle-related diseases. Plus, the cost of treating diet-related diseases is far greater than the cost of preventing them. Shockingly, 90% of US healthcare costs are spent treating preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and various cancers. If even a portion of the money spent treating these NCDs was invested in school nutrition, the cost of treating otherwise preventable chronic illness would be reduced dramatically for individuals, employers, and society as a whole. Prioritizing access to health-promoting school lunch is a win-win for all, today and for years to come.
Reduce healthcare costs
It is critical to consider and address the patterns of socioeconomic, racial, environmental, and intergenerational inequalities related to food access, nutritional quality, and diet-related health outcomes. A just food system is not only about access to calories—it is about access to foods that promote good health, socioeconomic equity, and a liveable future. School is the great equalizer for children, and school food presents a powerful opportunity to purvey food that will guarantee the nutritional health of all children, as well as the health of the planet upon which they depend.