THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Trying to fight the growing child obesity epidemic, new federal guidelines proposed Thursday focus on making school lunches healthier.
The new guidelines, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), would be the first such changes in 15 years and include cutting salt and fat and adding more fruits and vegetables to school cafeteria fare.
"For the first time in a generation we are proposing significant improvements to the nutritional quality of the meals served to children across America," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters during a Thursday press conference.
He noted that about one-third of school children are obese. "These children will consume a third to a half of their calories in school and we can have a positive impact in improving the nutritional quality of school meals," Vilsack said.
One nutrition expert agreed.
"Having healthier fare in the schools is a critical step in giving children the education and experience of healthy foods and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases and obesity," said Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
The new guidelines also call for more whole grains and the use of low- or nonfat milk. They would also limit the amount of starch to one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so french fries wouldn't be on the menu every day, according to the Associated Press.
The nation may have a financial incentive to boosting the health of school meals, too. "If we do not get our hands around the obesity epidemic, by 2018 we will face nearly $344 billion of additional health care costs -- that's more than 21 percent of our current health care spending," Vilsack said.
According to 2008 statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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