monifa bandele*Monifa Bandele, campaign director for MomsRising.org, a multicultural civil rights organization, wants everyone to know that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is poised to soon make some of the most major changes to public school lunch room food choices in more than three decades.

In 2010 Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.  The legislation gives the USDA, as their press release stated, the  - “opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.”

As part of that reform the USDA has zeroed in on snack foods in the lunch room and is looking for input from the community on its website- usda.gov. The USDA wants public comment by April 9 about the “Smart Snacks in School” rule involving the raging debate over vending machines offering too much so called junk food and not more healthy choices in the lunch room.

“The guidelines around what can be sold in school vending machines and concession stands and a la carte lines haven’t been updated since the ‘70’s. So, it’s really out of date. We see all kinds of things happening in schools. We know about 40% of all kids actually buy snacks from the vending machines instead of eating the school lunch a lot of times. We want to make sure that it’s nutritious. We’re mobilizing parents to say we want strong rules in place. We really don’t want junk food being sold to kids inside of schools anywhere.” Bandele said.

MomsRising.org pointed to a harrowing statistic from the Centers for Health Control and Prevention – In 2007-2010, African American girls were 80% more likely to be overweight than Non-Hispanic White girls.

“There are 23 million children who are either overweight or obese.” Health problems, Bandele believes, have a direct connection to poor eating choices. “People said oh, that’s a physical thing and you know, it’s about aesthetic and it totally has to do with health. Because when children are overweight and obese it puts them at high risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”

Bendele acknowledged that snack foods are a big source of revenue for schools, “especially in school districts that are suffering.” However, she claims her organization is not trying to dry up that revenue stream.

“We’re not saying don’t vend. We’re saying healthy snacks. You can sell plenty of snacks that are healthy, that are nutritious and still get money into the school without compromising the health and wellness of the children. And we found that the schools agree. And the schools actually also support the stronger rules as long as they can still sell snacks.”

She added they are in coalition with the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and National Education Association (NEA) to try to get a healthy change for kids.

Reach Tene’ Croom at [email protected]