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Nutrition Directors Make the Case: School Meals for All!

When COVID-19 shut down schools in South Carolina, the Charleston County School District set up drive-through pick up and bus delivery of school meals in less than 48 hours.

“We kept adding bus routes and looking for ways to reach families,” said Walter Campbell, Executive Director of Nutrition Services for Charleston. “No matter what people needed we would take care of it.” 

Nationwide, more than 13 million children face food insecurity, meaning they don’t consistently have enough food to eat. For these kids and their families, school meals are often the difference between having enough to eat or going hungry. The pandemic highlighted how critically important school meals are for preventing hunger and food insecurity in America, especially for families furthest from economic opportunity. 

Yet school nutrition programs are often understaffed, underfunded and overlooked. These programs have faced significant financial losses during the pandemic. According to USDA data, school food service departments reported more than $2 billion in federal revenue losses from March to November 2020. 

To address the added challenges of the pandemic, USDA used new authority from Congress to issue waivers that permitted schools nationwide to serve meals to all students free of charge (also known as universal school meals). Universal school meals have been key to supporting nutrition service directors’ efforts to feed children facing food insecurity.

However, universal school meals will  expire on June 30, 2022.

Campbell serves breakfast to more than 16,000 students and lunches to more than 30,000. He said that if free school meals end, there could be a devastating rise in school lunch debt.

Video transcript, from Walter Campbell, Executive Director of Nutrition Services for Charleston County School District: “If we don’t have free meals for all of our students, I think we’re going to see a huge rise in student debt. Because if a child comes through and they want a meal, we give them a meal. So student debt could grow.”

Kimberly Meeks, Student Nutrition Director of Roswell Independent School District in New Mexico, has similar concerns. “We don’t turn kids away. We’ll feed them no matter what, but if free meals end the debts will increase greatly,” she said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Roswell Independent School District saw a sharp drop in school meals participation due to school closures. Nearly two years later, with students in school and numbers almost back to normal, the district faces a new challenge: supply chain issues. 

Across the country, school nutrition programs are scrambling to fill in gaps when they don’t receive the food they order. Many have been forced to find new vendors when orders are canceled or delayed, and even make trips to local stores to purchase necessary food and supplies. A national survey from December 2021 reveals 97% of school meal program directors are challenged by rising costs due to supply chain issues. 

Video transcript, from Kimberly Meeks, Student Nutrition Director for Roswell Independent School District: “I love my job, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The past two years I can honestly say have been extremely difficult, but I do know this: with the supply chain issues, if USDA doesn’t give us waivers I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”

Meeks said she struggles to get the products she needs to feed her students. One week she ordered 100 cases of chicken nuggets, but ended up receiving only 30. She has to tackle new challenges each week to ensure the meals have enough nutrients, including protein and the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

Video transcript, from Kimberly Meeks, Student Nutrition Director for Roswell Independent School District: “I put out a menu but it gets changed almost daily. Because we never know what we’re going to get in or how much of that product. I spend most of my day now trying to figure out what food we’re going to serve.”

A new report by Healthy Eating Research examines how school food service authorities (SFAs), which are responsible for planning, sourcing, preparing, and serving school meals, tackled the challenge of providing school meals during the pandemic. 

According to the brief, SFA’s work can be supported by:

  • Making universal school meals permanent
  • Strengthening communication between school food directors and other community organizations such as food banks and local farms
  • Developing a funding plan for school nutrition programs that does not rely solely on revenue from students purchasing meals 
  • Establishing a comprehensive disaster plan for future emergencies

Healthy Eating Research’s report also underscores the passion that school food service directors and their teams have for their work. Directors and staff worked overtime to ensure students were fed and receiving nutritious foods, which was essential for preventing hunger and supporting families in need throughout the pandemic. 

Campbell calls his nutrition team “superheroes.” “We never say ‘we can’t do that.’ If a student is in need, we will find a way to reach them and feed them. ” 

Boy selecting item for school meal

The Six-Ingredient Recipe for Universal School Meals: Lessons from California

California passed its own school meals for all plan, followed by Maine, and campaigns are also underway in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and other states. This story shares six key ingredients to California’s success, which may guide other advocates and policymakers in providing free, healthy school meals for all students, no matter where they live.

Read More

Priority Policy

School Meals and Snacks

Many children consume up to half their daily calories at school. Nationwide more than 29 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participate in the School Breakfast Program. 

See The Policy

A Malawian Farmer’s Inspiring Lessons on Climate Change, Food Justice and Gender Equity

Hunger and food insecurity are major concerns for millions of families, and have plagued the United States for decades. Structural racism is one key driver of these challenges, creating inequities in access to healthy foods and putting the health of many children at risk.

As we seek solutions and successes in other countries for improving the health and well-being of all children, there is much to learn from Malawian farmers. The film The Ants and the Grasshopper shares some of these lessons, weaving together three of the most urgent themes of our times: climate change, food justice, and gender equity.

Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), sat down with award-winning filmmaker and New York Times bestselling writer, Raj Patel, to discuss the film, and how lessons from the film can inform our collective efforts to build a Culture of Health.

Watch a recording of a live conversation Jamie and Raj had late last year:

In Malawi, child malnutrition is a significant challenge. Rising temperatures and extreme drought have damaged the soil and made it tougher to grow nutritious food. As a result, families are pushed further into hunger and poverty. 

The film follows Anita Chitaya, a Malawian activist and farmer who addresses problems in the food system by mobilizing people in her village to create new agriculture methods and plant nutrient-rich food, and tackling gender inequities by getting men involved in growing and cooking food. 

The film then showcases Anita’s journey across the United States as she meets with farmers, food justice advocates and climate skeptics, to share lessons and engage in conversations about how to build a future where all children grow up healthy. 

You can also visit rwjf.org to read the highlights from their conversation in RWJF’s Culture of Health Blog.

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Our People Will Walk With Good Health

After more than a year of grappling with uncertainty and insecurity, it can feel hard to find the “bright spots.” But this story from rural South Dakota—about an Indigenous-led collaboration centered on food justice—serves as one. The “Bountiful Backpacks” program started at the St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in 2014, has taken root in other communities as a smart, scalable approach to combating child poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

Ten years ago, school backpack food programs were gaining popularity. Students would receive backpacks full of ready-made snacks and supplies to supplement what may not be available at home. Unfortunately, the snacks were often highly processed foods and there wasn’t a focus on food and nutrition education. Local leaders, including St. Francis Indian School counselors, our team at the 4-H/South Dakota State University Extension, and educators from SNAP-Ed and EFNEP (initiatives helping to fund our backpack program), were quick to identify these problems. They began engaging the community to create a more tailored approach that would better meet the needs of our kids and families.

  • How could the backpack program incorporate fresh, plant-based, and traditional foods?
  • Instead of snacks, could they send home ingredients and recipes for a full family meal?
  • Did families have the necessary kitchen equipment and utensils to prepare the meals?
  • At what age were kids most interested in cooking?

After numerous conversations and community surveys with parents, teachers, local businesses, tribal leaders, and more, the program leaders gleaned key insights to design the “Bountiful Backpacks” program. Their target age group would be 3rd-6th graders; can openers were a basic equipment need; all recipes needed to meet USDA MyPlate nutritional standards; and all ingredients should be available (and affordable!) at the local grocery store. With a plan in place, all they needed was kickstart funding.

The Wellmark Foundation of Blue Cross/Blue Shield was our perfect match. They provided a grant for $150,000 to pilot the program for up to 24 months and they managed to stretch those funds over five years. How? The team ensured that the total cost of ingredients included in each backpack never exceeded $2. This way, families could continue to afford to prepare their favorite meals—from two bean chilis and chicken soups, to sweet potato pancakes (a real hit!), and tuna melts.

Video transcript, from Roger Ronnekamp, health director of the Cooperative Extension:
“The Bountiful Backpacks program introduces a new twist to existing efforts to ensure that children have enough to eat when school is not in session. Instead of sending home backpacks full of nonperishable, often highly processed foods, Bountiful Backpacks sends home nutritious meal kits that a family can prepare together. It’s more than the sample usually offered at cooking classes. And what’s more, it comes right to the house in a student’s backpack.”

It’s important to note the context the team was working in. The St. Francis Indian School was already operating free and reduced-price lunch programs for upwards of 95 percent of its students. The community has experienced generations of deep poverty and it is not uncommon for kids to show up to school hungry. They knew from experience that to effect change, one program wouldn’t be enough—but it was something.

It didn’t take long to see the ripple effects from classroom to home kitchens across the community. Students learned how to cook nutritional recipes in their classrooms on a Friday, and then were equipped with the ingredients and newfound skills to role model to their parents, siblings, and grandparents over the weekend. For many kids, their excitement could not be contained—“What’s the secret ingredient today?” “What new twist are we putting on the recipe?”

Click thumbnails below to view photos from the Bountiful Backpacks classrooms

At its core, Bountiful Backpacks boosted food security by ensuring that kids and families had enough food to eat. But beyond this, it transformed diets by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, provided nutrition and cooking education, and improved not only the health of the students, but their immediate and extended families. And by partnering with community grocery stores, the program also supported the local economy.

Video transcript from Samantha Dvorak, South Dakota State University Extension Associate, Family & Community Health:
“I think the difference in this backpack program is that you’re not just sending random food items home on a Friday for one kid to eat. You’re sending them home with the knowledge of how to make that recipe and enough ingredients to make it for their entire family. You’re also giving them life skills that they’re going to carry forward.”

It took years and multiple iterations to get the recipes just right, to safely incorporate more perishable items, to ground cultural teaching in the nutrition lessons—and the effects were wide-reaching.

Video transcript from Roger Rennekamp, health director of the Cooperative Extension:
“Parents and grandparents want their families to be healthy. But many lack access to healthy, affordable food. So, in addition to teaching people how to be healthy, Bountiful Backpacks reduces some of the barriers to achieving that goal. It addresses social conditions beyond the control of the individual.”

Parents proudly posted photos of their kids preparing the Bountiful Backpack meals on Facebook—noting that their kids were willing to try new foods and enjoyed healthy cooking. Our team even heard from grandmas that their diabetes symptoms had improved as a result of the program.

At some sites, such as the Yankton Sioux Tribe, 79 percent of students in the program reported improvements to their diet quality, with more than one-third explicitly stating that they choose healthier snacks and eat vegetables and fruit more often.

Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk perfectly describes the hopes we all held for this program when he said, “Unki-ye Wo-i-ha-bde Kin Ogna Oyate Zani Mani Pi Kte”—as translated, “Our vision: Our people will walk with good health.”

“Unki-ye Wo-i-ha-bde Kin Ogna Oyate Zani Mani Pi Kte”—as translated, “Our vision: Our people will walk with good health.”

Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Robert Flying Hawk

South Dakota Cooperative Extension’s fresh take with the Bountiful Backpacks program is a unique community-based model that schools, funders, stakeholders, and others can support in the pursuit of health equity and food justice—that the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown, produced, transported, distributed, accessed, and eaten are shared fairly.

Nationally, through its Well Connected Communities initiative, the nation’s Cooperative Extension System continues to support innovations like these—and I still marvel at the fact that the original, modest program we launched eight years ago has reached more than 1,000 families participating in Federally Recognized Tribal Education Programs across the state.

By Karla Trautman, director of Extension at South Dakota State University. Over the course of her 33 year career with Cooperative Extension, Karla has worked at the community- and state-levels in a variety of positions, focusing on the development of youth, families, and communities.

A Multigenerational Approach to Health

In many ways, the Bountiful Backpacks program harkens back to the origins of Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth development program, where young people learned new skills and then passed them on to their elders. In the late 1800s, land-grant universities were struggling to generate uptake and engagement with new agricultural methods and technologies. However, young people were open to new thinking and when they role modeled new skills to the community, they were more readily accepted and adopted.

Learn more about the history of 4-H

About the Cooperative Extension System
Administered by the nation’s land grant universities, including historically Black and Native American tribally controlled colleges and universities, Extension connects university science to community issues in every U.S. state and territory. By linking resources and organizations to address locally identified problems, Extension empowers resilient communities to address pressing problems in rural and urban America.

About 4-H
For more than 100 years, 4‑H has welcomed young people of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving kids a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better. Through life-changing 4‑H programs, nearly 6 million kids and teens have taken on critical societal issues, such as addressing community health inequities, engaging in civil discourse, and advocating for equity and inclusion for all.

Playing the “long game of child nutrition” in North Sacramento, California

In North Sacramento, California, the Natomas Unified School District has served more than a million meals since the pandemic started–in great part due to USDA-issued COVID-19 waivers that allowed the district the flexibility to serve more meals to more kids. That’s an average of 2,000 students receiving meals every single day, including weekends–a 127% increase from pre-pandemic times. And throughout summer 2021, these numbers will grow, with the district serving three meals, six days a week, to local families at pick-up centers across the area.

Thanks to funding from No Kid Hungry California, NUSD was able to purchase a food truck that delivers farm-fresh fruits and vegetables directly to families with children under age 18–all at no cost.

California school meals food truck
Photo: NUSD’s food truck, which served farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to families across the district (Credit: Vince Caguin)

For Executive Director of Nutrition Services Vince Caguin and his team at NUSD, feeding local families is a passion–one that they’re committed to fulfilling no matter what: “It’s my belief that to play the long game of child nutrition and for it to grow and have an impact, we have to get out of the traditional four walls of our school district and the traditional 6 AM to 3 PM service model. Hunger doesn’t have a timeline, hunger doesn’t stop. It doesn’t take winter breaks, doesn’t take spring break and for us to serve our community, that’s a great opportunity for us.”

Moreover, he recognizes that school and summer meals do more for a community than just making sure kids don’t go hungry–although that’s paramount. Their program also provides jobs for nutrition staff, even providing opportunities for growth and promotion, and supports local farmers and growers. He sees it as a win-win for everyone.

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Baltimore Public Schools Keep Innovating to Serve Millions of Kids Across the City

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Since the pandemic started, and now as students break for the summer, Elizabeth Marchetta, executive director of food and nutrition services and her team at Baltimore City Public Schools in Baltimore, Maryland, have made it their mission to ensure that local families across the city never have to worry about a lapse in access to food.

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Summer meal programs are a lifeline for millions of children from families with low income who live in underserved and rural communities. Many children who rely on summer and school meals programs struggle with hunger or food insecurity. In 2014 and 2015, 84% of food-insecure households with school-age children accessed free- or reduced-price lunches.

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How School Meals Help Families Impacted by the Pandemic

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School meals are a lifeline to tens of millions of families across the country. Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, discussed new findings about the importance of school meals with Dr. Mary Story, program director of Healthy Eating Research. Learn about new research showing why healthy meals are so important—and opportunities to help schools ensure more families have access to the healthy foods they need.

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Summer Meals Help Students Eat Healthy in Burke County, Georgia

A woman unloads food from a bus
Photo: Donna Martin, Burke County Public Schools

Burke County Public Schools in Waynesboro, Georgia, is committed to stopping the “summer slide” –that is, the slip into unhealthy eating habits that often happens during the summer months. Nutrition program director Donna Martin’s philosophy is to “not just get fed, but get healthy food.”  

In Burke County, more than 25% of families are food insecure. So Donna and her team know how important it is to ensure kids get fed even when they’re not at school. That means providing boxes full of healthy foods to every family in the county, including a week’s worth of meals, delivered by bus to locations close to families, for free. 

Every box includes ingredients, straight from local farms, to make healthy meals for an entire family–like stuffed bell peppers and scalloped potatoes. Families receive detailed recipe cards and access to online videos that teach them how to make each meal. Many families encounter ingredients, such as jicama, pomegranates and brussels sprouts, for the first time. They learn how to store and prepare each one as part of a nutritious meal for the entire family.

School meals in box
Photo: Donna Martin, Burke County Public Schools

Burke County Public Schools rely on close partnerships with bus companies to transport the boxes and volunteer students to pack them but continue to face challenges–like finding enough refrigeration space for a weeks’ worth of groceries and getting enough hands to prepare and deliver them. The USDA Summer Meals Program, Donna says, has been key: “I could not begin to do this if I didn’t have USDA funding.”

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Baltimore Public Schools Keep Innovating to Serve Millions of Kids Across the City

Nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s young residents struggle with food insecurity. That’s why, since the pandemic started, and now as students break for the summer, Elizabeth Marchetta, executive director of food and nutrition services and her team at Baltimore City Public Schools in Baltimore, Maryland, have made it their mission to ensure that local families across the city never have to worry about a lapse in access to food. Since July 1, 2020, BCPS has served more than 4.5 million grab-and-go meals at their 80 sites around Baltimore–that’s more than 30,000 meals every day.

Students pack lunches
High School student interns building “ag-tivity” kits. (Credit: Great Kids Farm)

Doing so has required constant innovation to adapt to changing COVID rules and varying family needs. That means implementing programs like food trucks, which will launch during summer 2021. Designed and run by local teens, the food trucks serve a dual purpose–both delivering meals to families in need and involving older youth, who can sometimes be harder to reach. It also means delivering more than 5,000 “ag-tivity” and “plant-a-seed” kits to homes, to teach kids about gardening and fresh produce, while engaging many students who were chronically absent during the 2020-21 school year because of COVID-19. BCPS even offers “FaceTime with a Farmer”–live virtual field trips to over 3,700 students from 63 area schools–providing lessons from home that connect the dots between agriculture and healthy foods to science, math, social studies and English Language Arts.

In addition to the regular school and summer meals served, more than 25 distribution sites also are offering produce boxes, funded by the City of Baltimore. Since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, BCPS has served more than 75,000 of these pre-packed 20-pound boxes. And last summer, thanks to a partnership with World Central Kitchen, they served another 10,000 boxes to local families. These boxes are even accompanied by YouTube videos with recipe ideas.

BCPS staff take their commitment seriously to ensure students are fed under any circumstances and Elizabeth says she knows from conversations with families that they’re making a real difference. And throughout the summer even when schools are closed, they’ll keep adapting and innovating to make a difference for Baltimore families.

Priority Policy

Summer Food Service Program

Summer meal programs are a lifeline for millions of children from families with low income who live in underserved and rural communities. Many children who rely on summer and school meals programs struggle with hunger or food insecurity. In 2014 and 2015, 84% of food-insecure households with school-age children accessed free- or reduced-price lunches.

Learn More About The Policy

How School Meals Help Families Impacted by the Pandemic

School meals are a lifeline to tens of millions of families across the country. In March 2020, schools in the U.S. began closing in droves in response to COVID-19. School nutrition staff sprang into action, ensuring that children– and their families– received healthy foods in their time of need.

Read the full story

WIC Gives Families a Sense of Relief Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since its inception, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has helped millions of women who are pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding, and infants and young children up to age 5, eat healthier foods even on lower incomes. Considered to be one of the most successful nutrition intervention programs for improving maternal and child health, WIC is essential for families across the country. In fact, in 2019, more than 6 million people participated in WIC each month, including roughly half of all infants born in the United States. 

The unprecedented increases in unemployment and hunger caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored how vital this federal program—which supplies around $40 in monthly benefits to each participant to purchase nutritious groceries, access nutrition services, health screenings, breastfeeding support, and referrals for healthcare and social services—was and continues to be. With the pandemic, WIC enrollment has grown significantly and experts expect this trend to continue for years. 

WIC Provides Families With Essential Support During Difficult Times

We’ve spoken with families from California to Vermont who told us how the WIC program has enabled them to ensure their kids have enough healthy food on a lower budget, providing essential support, particularly during difficult times. Here are their stories:

Angelique Schanbeck and Rebecca Gross
Angelique Schanbeck chats with her friend Rebecca Gross about raising her three young children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Angelique’s oldest—five-year-old Madison—has autism and is taking remote school classes. Her family received support from the WIC program and gave her the security of affording the nutritious foods they need to live healthy.

Learn more about Angelique’s story here.

Diane Chamberlain and Bo-Yee Poon
Bo-Yee Poon tells Diane Chamberlain about getting WIC benefits after returning from a 16-year stay in China during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure they had healthy foods to eat, Diane delivered WIC groceries to Bo-Yee and her children, and the two women have become good friends.

Learn more about Bo-Yee’s story here.

Meg and Jocelyn York
Spouses Meg and Jocelyn York, discuss learning about the opportunity of applying and qualifying for WIC benefits as a middle-income family, providing great relief as they manage their finances. The couple also shares how WIC taught them healthy ways to feed their toddler and newborn on a lower budget as the COVID-19 lockdown began in Vermont.

Hear more of Meg’s and Jocelyn’s stories here.

Shelly Lanier and Tracy Lasserre
Shelly Lanier tells her best friend Tracy Lasserre about becoming a mom at age 41 and how WIC services have helped her adjust to motherhood. She describes how WIC’s prenatal classes taught her essential lessons about nutrition so that she could make sure both she and her baby stayed healthy.

Listen to Shelly and Tracy tell their stories here.

How to Ensure WIC Can Continue to Meet Families’ Needs

These and many other stories from families across the country confirm that WIC is a vital resource that keeps millions of moms and kids from experiencing hunger. But the need is great and far from met. Recently, Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), spoke with Brian Dittmeier, senior public policy counsel at the National WIC Association, about a new report that documents how the pandemic has affected WIC, how WIC has adapted to continue serving its participants, and what additional supports and resources are still needed to ensure that the program can meet the needs of families today and going forward.   

WIC is one of our country’s most vital programs, not just for the number of families it serves, but for the impact it has.

BLOG

WIC Innovates to Support Maternal and Child Health During the Pandemic

Find out more about how WIC has been innovating to continue to serve families across the country even during this crisis and what’s still needed to ensure the program not only continues, but expands to meet growing need.

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PRIORITY POLICY

WIC

A summary of the WIC program, including who it serves and how participants benefit. Learn how federal relief bills affect WIC and find the latest research about the impact of the program, including how it supports a healthy diet and is linked with reducing obesity rates among young children.

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child food insecurity map
DAta

State Policy Data

WIC is one of several federal policies that aim to make healthy foods accessible and affordable to children and adults nationwide, and states play a big role in how these policies are implemented. Explore state-by-state data about child food insecurity, WIC and other key federal nutrition programs.

Explore the data
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Policy Recommendations

WIC Recommendations

Modernizing and strengthening key child nutrition policies is essential for prioritizing health equity and ensuring America’s recovery from the pandemic. RWJF offers short- and long-term recommendations for the WIC program.

See Recommendations

How School Meals Help Families Impacted by the Pandemic

School meals are a lifeline to tens of millions of families across the country. Learn about new research showing why healthy meals are so important—and opportunities to help schools ensure more families have access to the healthy foods they need.

Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, discusses new findings about the importance of school meals with Dr. Mary Story, program director of Healthy Eating Research.

On a typical day before the pandemic, school food service workers across America did far more than serve lunch to the nearly 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, and the nearly 15 million participating in the School Breakfast Program. Many also served afterschool snacks and even dinners for students to take home to their families. These school meals are a lifeline for tens of millions of kids and families who are furthest from economic opportunity.

All of this changed in March 2020 when schools across the country began closing in droves in response to COVID-19. Students in Houston were getting ready for Spring Break just as lockdowns began. This timing meant that instead of being stocked to serve students for the week, refrigerators across the Houston Independent School District (HISD) were empty.

Read the full post on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Blog.

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School Meals Are a Lifeline for America’s Kids and Families

For Santana Lee, preparing meals for her adopted children became a serious challenge when COVID-19 forced schools to close. Thankfully, Milwaukee Public School District in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Lee’s family lives, developed “Stop, Grab & Go” locations where families can pick up school meals. Breakfast and lunch are free for all students and children under the age of 18.

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Priority Policy

School Meals and Snacks

Many children consume up to half their daily calories at school. Nationwide more than 29 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participate in the School Breakfast Program. 

See The Policy

Seattle Nonprofit Alleviates Hunger with Funding from Sugary Drink Tax

A group of kids hold vegetables
Photo courtesy of  http://www.tilthalliance.org/

Note: This story was originally published by Voices for Healthy Kids.

Seattle is now in its fourth year of taxing distributors on the sale of sugary drinks, at just under two cents per ounce. This tax is then often passed onto consumers through a slight increase in sales price, and those pennies have added up to tens of millions of dollars.

The goal of the tax was to expand programming that increases access to healthy food and to support early youth health, development and readiness for school. As staff at Tilth Alliance, we have been able to see a direct, positive and lasting impact in the community.

Tilth Alliance is one of the many non-profit and community-based organizations that receives funding through the City of Seattle and sugary drink tax revenue. We invest the funding we receive into our nutrition programs so that all Seattleites, regardless of their income or resources, have access to healthy food. That’s important year-round, but as we close out the month of March – National Nutrition Month – we thought it important to share our success with others who may consider a sugary drink tax to support health and wellness programs in their own communities.

This is our fourth year receiving sugary drink tax funding to support our Good Food Bag program. In this time, we’ve delivered over 60,000 bags of healthy fruits and vegetables all across south Seattle through partners like Seattle Public Preschools, senior centers, community centers and low-income housing communities. Our impact with Good Food Bags is three-fold: we increase access to fruits and vegetables for households on a budget, we cultivate relationships between urban consumers and small local farms, and we boost the local food economy by routing most of our produce purchases through Washington-based distributors and by purchasing directly from farmers.

In 2020, we expanded these food access and local food economy benefits by launching a weekly pay-what-you can farm stand at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Here, we sell both produce grown on our farm, as well as produce and agricultural products from other small local farmers and producers. This “full diet” farm stand offers an array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy, meats, pantry goods and even fresh-cut flowers.

We ensure affordability by offering a $20 produce discount, where anyone who asks can receive up to $20 in free fruits and vegetables per visit. We also take Fresh Bucks and participate in the state’s 50% Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) match program. By participating in these programs and offering our discount, a shopper using EBT can pay $10 to take home $40 worth of fresh, local produce. 

Priority issue

Sugary Drinks Harm Kids’ Health

Find the latest research on sugary drink marketing, learn how beverage companies target Black and Latinx youth, and see policy strategies for reducing consumption.

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New Data Compares Latest Child Obesity Rates By Age, Gender, and Race

Nearly one in five young people in the United States has obesity. Current data, from the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), shows that 19.3% of U.S. children and adolescents ages 2–19 years have obesity. 

The newest data, published in December, reinforce that child obesity rates vary dramatically across age, gender, and racial and ethnic groups. The obesity rate among young people ages 12-19 is 21.2%, compared to 20.3% for youth ages 6-11 and 13.4% for the youngest group, ages 2-5. Obesity rates are higher among boys than girls. 

Communities of color continue to be significantly impacted by obesity, causing racial and ethnic disparities in rates to persist. Based on the latest findings, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic youth have the highest rates of obesity, increasing their risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and putting them at greater risk for severe consequences from COVID-19. By gender, obesity rates were higher for non-Hispanic Black girls (29.1%) and Hispanic boys (28.1%). Non-Hispanic Asian children had the lowest obesity rates across all races, with the rate among boys at 12.4% and for girls, 5.1%.

Data interactive

National Obesity Monitor

See all of the most recent data on national obesity rates for children and adults, which come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This feature also lets you explore trends going back decades, and see differences by age group, sex, and race and ethnicity.

Explore the Data
priority POLICY

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

October 2020

Learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously referred to as food stamps, and see policy recommendations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Visit the SNAP Policy Page
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FULL REPORT

Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic

October 2020

This report presents the latest childhood obesity rates and trends, expert insights, relevant research, and policy developments, including emergency relief efforts to support major federal nutrition programs. It highlights promising strategies for prioritizing children’s health and improving equity in response to the pandemic and throughout recovery.

Read the Report
Story

Home Visits May Help Prevent Obesity Among Young Native American Children

DECEMBER 2020

Native American children have the highest rates of obesity in the United States. A study found that nutrition-focused home-visiting intervention programs have an impact on infant’s health and decreases risk of early childhood obesity.

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