Chairman O’Leary, Chairwoman Walz and members of the Committee, I would like to offer testimony in support of my bill H. 448, An Act to Promote Healthy School Meals.This bill would create a pilot incentive program for school districts that provide healthy nutritional school meals which incorporate fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Obesity has become an alarming problem among children nationwide, and especially in Massachusetts. Children are over-eating food and drinks high in fat and sugar, fueling rising rates of obesity and related chronic diseases among children. In the past 25 years, the number of overweight or obese children has increased by 300 percent. Overweight and obese children have a much higher risk for high blood pressure, asthma and type 2 diabetes. Half of all new cases of pediatric diabetes, sleep apnea and asthma are credited to childhood obesity.
Overweight children are also much more prone to face emotional problems, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Compared to their healthy counterparts, boys who are obese as children are twice as likely to experience clinical depression, and overweight children are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Obesity has overtaken smoking as the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. Every year more than 300,000 deaths are associated with obesity. Overweight and obese children are 70 percent more likely than their healthy counterparts to be overweight as adults. The Massachusetts Coalition on Obesity Prevention and Education estimates that the annual medical expenses resulting from obesity amount to $117 billion nationwide. Rates of diabetes have tripled since 1980, resulting in nearly $6,000 for the average yearly medical cost per person. The annual cost for youth under 16 with obesity related medical expenses has increased three fold, to a total of $127 million before the end of last century.
This problem can be prevented with healthy school meals. Children eat a significant percentage of their daily calories at school, in some cases up to two-thirds of their total daily calories. Children can learn healthy eating habits at school, which will then carry over into other aspects of their lives. However, a lack of resources and financial incentives make it difficult for many schools to offer healthier meals.
H. 448 would establish the Pilot Rewards for Healthy School Meals Program. Each fiscal year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DOE) would be authorized to expend an amount equal to the matching requirements pursuant to federal laws, as well as ten cents per lunch served in the prior school year, as rewards for awardees selected for the pilot Healthy School Meals Program. The standards for awardees will be promulgated by the DOE, along with the Department of Public Health (DPH), and will include a minimum proportion of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables as part of school meals. It would also require that school meals meet nutritional standards set by either the United States Department of Agriculture Healthier U.S. Challenge or the most recent Institute of Medicine report on Nutrition Standards for School Lunches. Establishing these incentives for school districts to improve the nutritional standards of school meals, and increase the amount of fresh, local food in meals, will lay the foundation for improvements in overall school wellness.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. I strongly encourage the Committee to adopt a favorable report for H. 448 as expeditiously as possible.