We Want Real, Healthy Food in the Montgomery County Public Schools
- The Board of Education and Superintendent Starr of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland
- United States of America
We shared the 2002 signatures that were on the petition on June 3, 2014 during testimony before the school board. Subsequently, we were told that they would eliminate certain chemicals from our list from future contracts for school food (which has started to happen) and would provide free bottles of water to children in elementary schools who were buying lunch (yeah for better access to water, boo for a not very environmentally sustainable solution - we know)! And most recently, they agreed to establish a standing wellness committee.
So we're getting these things done! We appreciate your signature and support and if you want to keep supporting our work, you can donate to Real Food for Kids - Montgomery at: http://www.realfoodforkidsmontgomery.org/donate.php
(Texto de la petición en español: http://www.realfoodforkidsmontgomery.org/petition.htm)
We, the undersigned, lend our support to Real Food for Kids – Montgomery and its recommendation that the following actions be taken by the Montgomery County Board of Education and Superintendent Starr to bring healthier food to the children of Montgomery County.
We believe that the food that is being served in our public schools could be improved to help our students attain better health, increase attention in class, and establish a lifetime of good eating habits. The recommendations are also consistent with and complementary to the MCPS Strategic Plan that seeks to have MCPS students “Make constructive and healthy decisions that promote hope, personal well-being, and social behavior”.
With the resources in this county and the strong and organized support among parents and the community for a healthier school food environment, we believe that action should be taken promptly by you to implement the recommendations in this letter. These recommendations were developed through polling the 1200+ members of Real Food for Kids – Montgomery on their top priorities. Other school districts, including our neighbors in the Fairfax, VA and DC public schools, have already successfully – and without a financial burden – implemented some or all of these recommendations.
Currently one third of all American children are overweight, and of that group, approximately 17% are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled(1), leading to a lifetime of chronic illnesses. If this trend continues, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives(2). In Maryland, the prevalence of diabetic adults has grown from 6.8% in 1999 to 8.7% in 2008, which continues to be above national levels(3). In addition, there are significant racial and ethnic disparities. Black females (12.5%) in Maryland have almost double the diabetic rates of white females (6.8%)(4). Nationwide, 40% of children in African American and Hispanic communities are suffering from overweight or obesity(5). Given a growing body of research that suggests that obesity is associated with poorer academic performance beginning as early as kindergarten(6), this could help explain some portion of the achievement gap.
Within MCPS schools, many a la carte and vending items sold are high in sugar (note: the American Heart Association recommends that children ages 4-8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons and pre-teens and teenagers consume no more than 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar daily)(7). They also contain ingredients found to be less than safe by the Center for Science in the Public Interest(8). Often, students will select and eat these items instead of fruits, vegetables, and meals. In addition, most of the foods served in MCPS meals are processed and contain additives, some of which have been shown to cause cancer, hyperactivity, and other behavioral impairments in children(9).
MCPS is poised to provide leadership and action through its school lunch program - to not only focus on supporting and strengthening the health and well-being of our students beginning at meal time - but to also use this specific program as an opening to further partnerships, engagement, and discussion between the county government, the school board and the community in support of our collective, shared vision for healthier people and stronger communities.
Montgomery County is not exempt from the national crisis. The recommendations of Real Food for Kids - Montgomery constitute a significant opportunity to improve the MCPS school lunch program.
(1) Adolescent and School Health: Childhood Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
(2) Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Learn the Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.letsmove.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity
(3, 4) Summary: Burden of Diabetes in Maryland. Maryland Department Health and Mental Hygiene. Retrieved from: http://phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov/cdp/pdf/Report-Diabetes.pdf
(5) Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Learn the Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.letsmove.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity
(6) Taras, H. & Potts-Datema, W. (2005). Obesity and Student Performance at School. Journal of School Health, 75(8), pp. 291-295. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/PU2ssV
(7) Are We Too Sweet? Our Kids' Addiction to Sugar. FamilyEducation. Retrieved from:
(8) Chemical Cuisine: Learn about Food Additives. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved from: https://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
(9) Kobylewski, Sarah & Jacobson, Michael F. (2010). Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, p. vi. Retrieved from: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf
• OFFER FREE, UNLIMITED WATER. Implement a system-wide solution for easier access to free, unlimited water in cafeterias (involving something to drink it with other than multiple trips to the water fountain).
• SERVE SCRATCH-COOKED FOOD. Immediately begin the process of moving from processed, pre-plated and reheated food to food cooked from scratch at the central facility with more prep work done on site at schools with kitchens. Offer at least one meal per day that is not a typical "junk food" (i.e., not chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs, burgers, fries) with an eye toward drastically reducing these options to no more than once or twice a month.
• REMOVE DANGEROUS CHEMICAL ADDITIVES. Remove all chemicals rated as "Caution" or "Avoid" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest from all food served in MCPS. At minimum, this list should include artificial flavors (plus vanillin), artificial colors (including red dye #2, #3 and #40, yellow dye #5 & #6, blue dye #1 and #2, and caramel coloring), artificial sweeteners (including aspartame, acesulfame potassium, cyclamates, saccharin and sucralose), BHA, BHT, Propyl gallate, TBHQ, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG and other glutamate-containing additives, including autolyzed yeast, Torula yeast, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein), partially hydrogenated oils/artificial trans fats, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide, sodium benzoate, Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), sodium nitrite/nitrate, Mycoprotein (Quorn), and sulfites/SO2.
• LIMIT SUGAR. Set an upper limit in grams for sugar in any product served in MCPS based on the limits for children recommended by the American Heart Association.
• REPLACE VENDING AND A LA CARTE (SNACK) OFFERINGS. Replace foods and beverages on current vending and a la carte lists with healthier choices (i.e., items without artificial colors and flavors, low in sugar, high in fiber, 100% whole grains.)
• IMPROVE TRANSPARENCY AND COMMUNICATION. List all items sold and served to children in any school in MCPS cafeterias, snack carts or shops on the monthly menus. In addition, at the beginning of each school year, have each school send parents a list of a la carte items sold at that school with information on how to block children's lunch accounts to prevent a la carte purchases.
• SERVE UNLIMITED FRUITS, VEGETABLES OR SALAD BARS. Offer unlimited fruits and vegetables free to all children who purchase lunch, preferably in some type of self-serve bar format. Serve fruits and vegetables in a form that is age-appropriate and easy to eat (i.e., oranges should be peeled or sectioned and apples should be sliced for elementary-age children).
• REINSTATE THE WELLNESS COMMITTEE. Re-form the MCPS Wellness Committee and include all major stakeholders, including representatives from local community and non-profit organizations that work on issues related to school wellness. The committee should be composed at minimum of 50% parents, selected through an unbiased application process with representation from each cluster and meet at least quarterly. The staff member charged with operational oversight over the formation and implementation of the wellness policy and committee should neither be subordinate to, nor an employee of, any department or employee responsible for implementation of the policy. The committee should be chaired by a member of the Board of Education; its schedule, agendas and minutes should be shared on the MCPS web site; and its meetings should be open to the public.
• AMEND THE WELLNESS POLICY. Amend the MCPS Wellness Policy to reflect the above changes.
We respectfully request your prompt attention and a public response to these recommendations.
Lindsey Parsons and Karen Devitt, Co-Directors, Real Food for Kids - Montgomery