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Cutting The Fat From School Lunches (AUDIO)

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A child can't grow on tater tots alone, says the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine. A new report by the IOM recommends that America's school lunches trade foods full of salt and saturated and trans fat for more fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains.

They've planned a menu for the USDA that would, for the first time, set minimum and maximum calorie limits for the more than 30.5 million lunches provided to U.S. children each year.

On Tuesday's Morning Edition, NPR's Patti Neighmond reports the proposed calorie caps reflect a fundamental shift in the health needs of kids, from adequate nourishment to preventing obesity:

But healthier meals come at a price, NPR's Health Blog reports.

"Schools are already pinched by the costs of so-so meals, which exceed the subsidies from the government. An average free lunch costs about $2.92 to make, yet the government pays $2.68, the Associate Press says, citing a recent survey by the School Nutrition Association. The IOM report recommends the feds beef up spending on meals to support more nutritious choices."

The choice to spend more is ultimately up to Congress, but some grassroots organizations are pushing for change now. Better School Food is uniting parents, educators and health professionals across the country to get kids better meals and "increase awareness of the connection between good food, good health and a student's ability to learn effectively."

They ask parents to get involved first by eating a lunch or two in their kid's school cafeteria and by considering a few scary stats:

  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are responsible for two-thirds of deaths in the U.S. The major risk factors for these diseases are often established in childhood.
  • One quarter of children ages 5 to 10 years show early warning signs for heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes can no longer be called "adult onset" because of rising rates in children.
  • Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades. One in seven young people are obese, and one in three are overweight.
  • From 1979 to 1999, annual hospital costs for treating obesity-related illnesses in children rose threefold (from35 million to127 million).

Visit Better School Food's website to learn more about improving school lunches in your community.