breaking news

Travis DA appeals Kleinert police shooting case to U.S. Supreme Court

Commentary: Why healthy children’s meals should be a national priority

Providing healthy meals to children is a critical issue — one that should be nonpartisan.

But during the past several years, political controversy has made its way onto the lunch tray, focused particularly on the nutritional content of meals served in schools. The federal government recently stepped back some Obama-era rules and decided to allow school meals with low-fat flavored milks and fewer whole grains. They also stopped planned decreases in the salt content of the meals. These rules help guide school decisions in what goes into the breakfasts and lunches served at schools — but administrators and districts, like parents and children, still have latitude to make healthier choices.

There’s no denying the challenge of providing meals that are nutritious, low-cost and flavorful. In particular, schools must be mindful of serving food that children will want to consume while also considering the latest nutrition science. The imperative to battle the obesity epidemic in Texas and nationwide adds an additional layer of complexity.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Viewpoints page brings the latest commentaries to your feed.

Although science on nutrition is often fluid, clear and compelling data show that children need less sugar and salt and more fruits and vegetables. Additionally, healthy-diet recommendations for children and adults are available in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint publication of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It emphasizes more fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy options — and fewer processed foods.

Many school systems have had great success in complying with the current rules. The proposed new rules would add some challenges to this compliance, but they would be feasible for most schools.

Most importantly, we must ensure that this first set of changed guidelines does not lead officials at the federal or local levels to backtrack on providing healthy meals to children.

There needs to be a continuing dialogue between parents, schools and the pediatric community about what a healthy diet consists of. The federal standards obviously play an important role in this conversation, but just because the standards allow a food choice doesn’t mean that is the right one. By the same token, parents shouldn’t let districts serve less-healthy meals just because the federal government says it’s OK. As we tell our kids, we can always be healthier.

It’s also important to remember that schools can only do so much. We know dietary patterns are established early in life, as is a tendency toward being overweight or obese. Parents and other family members have a critical role to play in teaching children to eat healthy and in guiding them toward good food choices at school, in restaurants and at the grocery store. Meals provided in schools must meet nutrition recommendations, but they are only part of the equation.

COMMENTARY: Texas should follow New Mexico’s plan to end ‘lunch shaming.’

As such, schools and other institutions should educate and assist parents, helping them teach their children to make good food choices. In turn, parents can and should advocate at the school level for healthy options — even when kids seem to prefer sugary beverages, salt and saturated fats.

For their part, school districts should carefully consider the changes allowed under the new rules or any future changes in the guidelines. Officials should avoid excuses to scrap programs that bring fresh fruits and vegetables to schools. Society has made a lot of progress in recent years in fighting childhood obesity; it shouldn’t tolerate changes that would roll back that progress.

Our children deserve better food and better health, regardless of government rules — and regardless of partisanship.

Abrams is a professor of pediatrics for the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Hawthorne is director of clinical research for the department of pediatrics at UT.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Watching the eclipse in Oregon

SALEM, Ore. — It was a lovely August morning here in Salem, with a warm sun blazing from a blue sky, when the world began to end. Or that’s what it felt like. Imperceptibly the sky darkened, and instead of growing hotter, the air grew cool. It was as if dusk began at 9:30 a.m. Then, abruptly, in just a few minutes, a bit after 10 a.m.,...
‘The Lees are complex’: Descendants grapple with rebel general’s legacy
‘The Lees are complex’: Descendants grapple with rebel general’s legacy

Few American families are as deeply embedded in the nation’s history as the Lees of Virginia. Members of the clan signed the Declaration of Independence, served the new nation as judges and generals, lawmakers and governors, and one, Zachary Taylor, even became president. For decades, the family appeared to be united in promoting the adulation...
Letters to the editor: Aug. 24, 2017

Re: Aug. 16 article, “U.S. court voids 2 area congressional districts.” If the chief financial officer of a corporation were found guilty of embezzling company funds over the course of a decade, the logical first step would be to terminate his control of the company’s money. Yet, after the court’s finding that the Texas Legislature...
I was detained for protesting Trump. Here's what the Secret Service asked me.
I was detained for protesting Trump. Here's what the Secret Service asked me.

Like many events that end up with a person in handcuffs, my story begins in a bar. I was in Atlanta earlier this month for Netroots Nation, the annual meeting of progressive organizers and writers, when I overheard friends discussing how to resist President Trump's first visit to Trump Tower. I jumped into the conversation: "Well, you call me...
Commentary: New measures open Texans’ access to mental health treatment
Commentary: New measures open Texans’ access to mental health treatment

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has spent much of her political career defending the rights of the state’s most vulnerable residents. She’s served on health and human service committees in the Senate for more than two decades, working on issues ranging from children’s welfare to elder care. She added to her legacy this session...
More Stories