The White House Taskforce on Childhood Obesity, formed with the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation, yesterday released its report to President Obama outlining strategies for addressing the epidemic. Many of the recommendations in the report -- particularly those focused on the school environment -- include strategies exemplified by food and fitness initiatives underway in Chicago.
"It's exciting to see these strategies highlighted at a national level after seeing the difference they're making on the ground in Chicago," said Rochelle Davis, HSC founding executive director. "We know these are effective approaches because we see them working in our schools and communities." In April, Davis participated in a White House summit convened by the Taskforce on Childhood Obesity to provide input for the report and subsequent course of action.
HSC's efforts to transform the school food and fitness environment in Chicago and beyond align with the recommendations at multiple levels, including:
Engaging students and community in Cooking up Change for school food. On May 17, high school and college students from across the U.S. will battle for first place in the final round of the Cooking up Change national healthy cooking contest, a culinary competition in which students design healthy school meals incorporating local ingredients on a tight budget with many of the constraints that food service providers typically face, including the Institute of Medicine standards recommended in the report. HSC launched the contest in Chicago in 2007 to engage student chefs and the broader community in a dialogue about healthful school food and the need for more resources for our nation’s school meal program. Since then, meals designed by students have been served to more than 40,000 students nationwide, in the House of Representatives cafeteria and at a Capitol Hill briefing on school food reform. Next week's contest will take place at Taking Root, the National Farm to Cafeteria conference in Detroit, the first time the conference has gone national. The contest's national reach will be highlighted in the film documentary "Lunch Line," which will debut May 18 at the Taking Root conference. The film focuses on student winners from Cooking up Change as they take their school meal to Congress to speak up for healthier school food.
Empowering parents. On May 19, more than a hundred parents from Chicago's Latino and African-American communities will come together for HSC's annual Parents United for Healthy Schools summit at to celebrate progress parents have made in advocating for wellness in Chicago schools. After completing an HSC training on healthy food, physical activity and strategies for change, parents have formed more than 40 wellness teams at schools across the city to help implement the district wellness policy at a school level. Parent leaders were instrumental in advocating for the return of recess in Chicago Public Schools, an initiative that school district leadership now encourages.
Taking on the HealthierUS School Challenge. A key component of Michelle Obama's initiative and the taskforce report is the HealthierUS School Challenge, a USDA program that recognizes school achievement in providing healthy food, physical education, physical activity and nutrition education. Chicago Public Schools recently became the first major school district in the nation to adopt the HealthierUS Gold Standard for all school meals beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. HSC is partnering with Chicago Public Schools and the USDA Midwest to support schools in meeting equally high standards for physical activity and nutrition education.
Connecting schools with local farms. With one of the largest farm to cafeteria programs in the nation, Chicago is pioneering new strategies for bringing the freshest, best-tasting produce to schoolchildren while supporting the regional economy. The district currently serves local flash-frozen produce several times per week and fresh local produce in season; this program is continuing to expand. Students also incorporate local ingredients in their entries in the Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest.
As these innovative initiatives develop at the local level in Chicago, HSC leaders and advocates across the U.S. are speaking up for changes to federal policy as Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which determines school food policy and resources. Advocates point out that schools need increased funding to provide the health-promoting meals that the taskforce recommends. The taskforce’s report recommends increased resources for school meals; HSC has mobilized stakeholders to advocate reauthorization funded at President Obama’s proposed level of $10 billion over the next ten years.
"We're seeing parents, students and food service directors in Chicago and across the country stepping up to do their part for kids' health," Davis said. "Now we need Congress to do their part and provide adequate funding for healthy school meals."