Christine Rushton, USA TODAY, August 18, 2015
Americans agree that food from local farms belongs in school cafeterias.
Nearly nine out of 10 people want to see an increase in farm-to-school food programming in the U.S., according to national survey results released Tuesday. The poll — commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — asked 1,200 adults across the country for their opinions on school nutrition standards and healthy food educational programs.
Along with a desire to improve water drinking habits, the overall results showed more confidence in the quality of public school meals and support for increasing government funding.
The National Farm to School Network reports that about 23 million students currently learn about where their food comes from through activities with local farms.
“Farm to school not only has a significant impact on building a generation of healthy eaters, but also creates economic opportunities for farmers,” said Anupama Joshi, executive director of Farm to School. “It is so exciting to see the broad public support for this win-win approach.”
Patrick Simpson, director of food, health and well-being for Kellogg, said people continue to develop a stronger sense of what is healthy. And farm-to-table programs help more than the students.
“It creates healthier school meals, teaches children about healthy education and creates a market for small farmers,” Simpson said.
The poll reflects the changes of opinions since the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — a set of recommendations put out by the USDA and U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. In the five years after the new standards went into effect, the percentage of people that think the public school cafeteria food has a good nutritional quality increased by 26%.
About 84% of the polled group also agreed that the farm and healthy practices education should affect the new guidelines, which will come out later this year.
La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said the group funds surveys like this to track the impact of nutritional programs.
“When we look at this issue — on the surface a food issue — what we understand is that implementing nutrition and healthy eating for children as early as possible does improve health outcomes,” Tabron said.
The costs for providing healthy food in schools can help prevent medical conditions that may show up later in life, she said. Nutrition education is a preventative tool.
This year, she said she hopes the new Dietary Guidelines include standards for pre-school-aged children.
“As we focus on vulnerable children in this country, these children have at least two meals per day within the school time frame,” Tabron said. “That’s a key access point for nutrition.”