2007-06-13 / Features

Padavan, Nolan Set School Nutrition Rules

BY JOHN TOSCANO

State Senator Frank Padavan and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan are sponsors of bills that passed their respective houses and establish stronger guidelines for nutritious and healthy food choices for public school children throughout the state.

The aim in both bills, which have many similar provisions, is to provide healthier meals which, along with increased physical activity, will help to stem rising obesity among the state's students.

Padavan stated: "Recent studies have shown that childhood obesity continues to climb at a staggering and frightening rate." His legislation, he said, "is a significant step to help eradicate obesity today and for future generations to come".

Padavan said he was confident that his bill would help spark a new trend of healthy and vibrant children throughout the state of New York. "We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything we can to provide healthy and fit futures," he added.

Both bills call on the state Department of Education to ensure that proper nutritional guidelines and increased physical activity are provided in every school.

Nolan (D- Ridgewood) said her bill is designed to provide students with access to healthier school meals, snacks and beverages, eliminate the cost to students receiving a reduced-price lunch or breakfast and increase the rate of reimbursement for reduced-price and free meals.

"We want to be sure that students take advantage of these nutritious meal plans," Nolan said. "An electronic payment system would ensure that all students are able to take the right steps toward being healthy without being self-conscious about assistance."

Emphasizing the need for her bill, Nolan stated, "The percentage of New York children and adolescents who are unhealthy has skyrocketed over the past few decades and is worse than ever. Poor dietary habits and inactivity contribute to serious health problems for kids, now and down the road."

Under Nolan's bill, all school districts that participate in the federal school lunch program will be required to establish a school breakfast program in middle and high schools. The state would provide approximately $9 million in funding to serve free breakfast and lunch to the 254,000 students statewide who currently receive meals at a reduced price. This means, Nolan said, that the 35 million meals per year will go from reduced price to free.

"This legislation will also defray costs to schools by providing an increase of 15 cents per free and reduced-price meal served," she explained. "This equates to approximately $40 million in additional state reimbursements." Nolan chairs the Assembly Education Committee.

Among its other provisions, Nolan's bill requires:

+The state Education Department together with the state Department of Health, must establish nutritional and dietary standards based on the latest nutrition information.

+School meals, snacks and beverages must comply with nutritional standards set by the Education Department.

+Costs for in-school breakfast and lunch programs are partly paid by the state.

+Periodic assessment of school districts' physical education programs and facilities.

The new nutritional and dietary standards will consider cholesterol and sodium levels, percent of calories derived from fat and sugar, total calorie amounts, fat content of milk and other dairy products and serving sizes, Nolan said.

Both legislative houses must meet and reconcile differences in the two bills. The bills must be identical before they can get final approval from the Assembly and senate.

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