FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(LITTLE ROCK) – Returning from a meeting of the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association in Oklahoma City last week Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark A. Darr held a bi-partisan announcement with school nutrition and health officials Tuesday at the State Capitol to present a resolution he passed Friday affirming the nation’s Lieutenant Governors’ support of the federal School Food Modernization Act that offers low interest loans and grants to modernize cafeteria equipment to serve more nutritious meals to students.
Darr said that by 2030 obesity-related health care costs in Arkansas could climb by 9.6 percent. In the United States, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year by 2030, and the loss in economic productivity could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually by 2030.
“The good news is that we have the power to change that,” Darr said. “We know that the food that kids consume at school during the day is very important to whether they’re healthy and growing normally or whether they’re on the track to be overweight or obese. Ensuring that these meals are as healthy as possible is especially important since most of the calories that kids consume outside the home are eaten at school. It may surprise you to hear that 56 million school lunches were served in Arkansas in 2012. We’ve got to make sure that every one of those lunches is as healthy and tasty as possible.”
State Senator David Johnson (D-32), Searcy Child Nutrition Director Charlotte Davis and Executive Vice President of Arkansas Children’s Hospital David Gordon joined Darr in the announcement.
“More than 23 million children and adolescents throughout the United States – nearly one in three young people – are either overweight or obese,” Johnson said. “Arkansas public education ranks fifth in the nation according to Education Week’s Quality Counts report. Now is the time we must keep our foot on the gas pedal. We can’t back off of our progress. If we are to continue our pursuit of a world-class education for every Arkansas child we must also pursue world-class nutrition for every child.”
Davis discussed the efforts in Searcy and White County that have successfully modernized school meals to include whole grain rich foods at virtually every meal. Gordon discussed the medical importance of childhood nutrition.
The SFMA was passed in Congress by U.S. Representatives Tom Latham (R-IA) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC). The School Food Modernization Act, H.R. 1783, includes provisions to:
• Establish a loan assistance program within USDA to help schools acquire new equipment to prepare and serve healthier, more nutritious meals to students. School administrators and other eligible borrowers can obtain federal guarantees for 90 percent of the loan value needed to construct, remodel, or expand their kitchens, dining, or food storage infrastructure.
• Provide targeted grant assistance to give school administrators and food service directors the catalyst funding they need for smaller projects to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or to purchase high-quality, durable kitchen equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves.
• Strengthen training and provide technical assistance to aid school food service personnel in meeting the updated nutrition guidelines. Not every school food service employee is equipped with the expertise to comply with healthier meal and food preparation standards. The proposed legislation authorizes USDA to provide support on a competitive basis to highly qualified third-party trainers to develop and administer training and technical assistance.
Darr also took the opportunity to announce that the next meeting of the newly elected Executive Committee of the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association will hold its first meeting November 20 to the 22nd in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“This will be a national honor and economic boost for Little Rock and Central Arkansas,” Darr said.
A copy of the resolution passed by Darr at the NLGA conference Friday follows.