West Virginia’s Child Nutrition Efforts Garner National Attention
West Virginia’s proactive approach to improving child nutrition options for the state’s schoolchildren has prompted a visit from an USDA official.
Audrey Rowe, administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, joined West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple on Tuesday for a tour of Piedmont Year-round Elementary School in Charleston as well as a stop at a summer food service site at Amandaville Court housing complex in St. Albans.
“It’s our opportunity and responsibility to ensure that no child in West Virginia goes hungry during the summer months just because most schools are closed,” Rowe said. Our children need to maintain a consistent healthy diet that supports growth and learning.”
West Virginia is one of seven states selected to participate in the USDA’s Community Eligibility Option (CEO), which will provide nearly 90,000 West Virginia students the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch at schools like Piedmont at no cost. The CEO, part of reforms mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, will make it easier for children in low-income communities to receive free meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. As a participating state, West Virginia plans to expand its Universal Free Meals pilot from 73 schools in eight counties to 283 schools in 35 high need counties for the 2012-2013 school year.
“Research consistently shows that children who eat a well-balanced breakfast and lunch perform better on standardized tests, have higher math scores and lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness,” Marple. “It’s unfortunate that many children in our state rely on school meals and summer feeding programs for their main nutrition. These programs are vital to their well-being.”
West Virginia has established itself as a national leader in child nutrition and wellness, becoming an early adopter of many requirements now included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and promoted by first lady Michelle Obama Let’s Move campaign. The new federal law calls both fruits and vegetables to be offered every day; increases whole grain-rich foods; limits milk offerings to fat-free or low-fat; restricts calories and portions based on children’s ages; and reduces saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
Since 1994, West Virginia has included health and wellness in its goals and priorities and strengthened its nutrition standards. More fruits and vegetables were added to school meals and schools are encouraged to cook more with fresh ingredients.
The Centers for Disease Control has posted the West Virginia Board of Education Policy 4321.1: Standards for School Nutrition on its Center for Excellence website as an example for other schools to duplicate. West Virginia is noted for its design to improve the nutritional quality of foods in schools and reduce marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to students.
Strong nutrition programs are especially important in West Virginia, where nearly 150,000 children are considered needy and qualify for free and reduced-priced school meals. About 85,200 West Virginia children live in homes where they don’t know how they will get their next meal. Public schools helped those children and others by serving 14.8 million breakfasts and 32.3 million lunches last year. In addition, the Summer Food Program this year feds about 16,000 children daily at about 464 sites across the state.
“Twenty-two million children nationwide receive free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Program during the regular school year, but little more than 3 million kids are fed in our summer programs,” Rowe said. “Expanding the summer program is critical and a high priority for the Obama Administration, the secretary, the department, and for me personally. This is a program where we can make real impact in the lives of our children.”