WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced a bipartisan bill to establish a new pilot program to fund nutritional education in schools. The Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act of 2020 would allocate federal funding for projects that educate students while connecting them to healthy food practices, with a priority given to schools in neighborhoods with high rates of childhood diet-related illnesses and those in which 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduce-priced meals.
Nutritious, healthy foods are critical to the wellness and academic performance of students. Several studies have shown that children are more likely to eat healthier foods when given the opportunity to participate in hands-on lessons that let them try a food multiple times and connect the dots between the classroom, the cafeteria, and the school garden. Because dietary illnesses can adversely impact school attendance and academic performance, equitable access to nutrition education can better prepare students for success in the classroom and beyond. Yet, the typical elementary school student receives less than five hours of nutrition education per year. This legislation seeks to reduce barriers to hands-on food and nutrition programs that help get more kids to eat the food already available to them at school and to continue to improve the food as kids learn to love it.
“As Ron Finley, an inspiring black leader and urban farmer in South Central Los Angeles once said, ‘In South Central, we got drive-bys and drive-thrus, and the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.’ Countless studies have demonstrated that a lack of access to nutritious food – particularly in underserved communities – manifests itself in all areas of human development, from increased rates of diet-related diseases to reduced academic performance,” Booker said. “We must do more to ensure our kids have consistent and equitable access to healthy foods, and the education that will help them make healthy diet choices throughout their lives. By prioritizing communities disproportionately impacted by food insecurity and diet-related illnesses, this bipartisan legislation would bring equitable access to food and nutrition education to children across the country.”
“Teaching students how to prioritize their health by choosing nutritious foods is an invaluable lesson that will serve them for years to come,” Cornyn said. “This legislation would invest in programs that educate Texas children to make healthy choices, which can help lower the incidence of disease linked to obesity and, in turn, save taxpayer money.”
“As a food service director, I wholeheartedly support the bill to establish food and nutrition educators in schools,” said Warren DeShields, Director of Food Services at Bridgeton Public Schools. “This will bridge the gap between education and nutrition programs in an effort to increase the acceptance and consumption of healthy appetizing meals in our cafeterias. It will also be exciting to see students encouraged to participate in evidence-based interventions like school gardens, farm to school initiatives, and nutrition education that can be built into their everyday curriculum for learning!”
"The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics believes that well-coordinated, comprehensive, integrated nutrition programs in preschool through high school are essential to improve the health, nutritional status and academic performance of our nation's children," said registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy President Terri J. Raymond. "This legislation is a good step in supporting efforts to make food and nutrition education a priority in our country's schools."
“Together with communities, FoodCorps envisions a future in which all our nation’s children––regardless of race, place, or class––know what healthy food is, care where it comes from, and eat it every day,” said Kumar Chandran, Policy Director at FoodCorps. “We have seen firsthand how food and nutrition educators can make a difference by delivering high-quality hands-on opportunities in classrooms, cafeterias, and gardens, changing kids’ relationship with food for the better. This bipartisan bill proposes to expand evidence-based food and nutrition education resources and programming to even more schools, ensuring school nutrition professionals have greater support to get kids excited about eating healthy school meals. We applaud Senators Booker and Cornyn for their leadership and vision to lift up the health and well-being of students by investing in food and nutrition education, and we look forward to collaborating with them to build support for the bill to be passed into law.”
The Act provides grant funding to local educational agencies for projects that (1) hire full-time food and nutrition educators to implement programs in schools that have the goal of improving student health and nutrition and (2) that fund school gardens or other evidence-based interventions relating to student health and nutrition to create hands-on learning opportunities for students.
Pilot programs must incorporate teaching techniques proven to maximize healthy food consumption, including hands-on learning, school gardens, taste testing, student engagement and farm-to-school practices. Projects must be in a variety of rural, suburban, and urban settings and at least one project must be located on an Indian reservation or at a school in which the majority of students are members of an Indian tribe.
The Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act of 2020 is endorsed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Afterschool Alliance, American Heart Association, Community FoodBank of New Jersey, FoodCorps, Hunger Free New Jersey, National Farm to School Network, and New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children.
As Mayor of Newark, Booker witnessed first-hand how our broken food system harmed local residents, as large sections of Newark were essentially “food deserts,” where communities had no access to healthy foods. He was instrumental in helping to bring several supermarkets to the area that helped increase access for Newarkers to healthy foods. He also spearheaded the creation of community gardens.