NYC students' nutritional health should be top priority: Advocates

By Li Yakira Cohen

More than 100 New Yorkers gathered for the March for Healthy School Food in NYC. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

As a food journalist, lawyer, and mom of two, Andrea Strong is passionate about children having access to healthy food and nutrition education. On Sunday, she led more than 100 people at the March for Healthy School Food in NYC.

The founder of the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance said that many schools are not doing enough to provide proper nutrition and nutritional education programs to students — especially to those who are low income. According to the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 13.7 million young Americans between 2 and 19 years of age are obese in the U.S.; the most impacted of those are in low- to middle-income households.

“Right now our menu is a bag to oven and we want real food made by real people served to our children,” Strong said. “It’ll increase jobs, it’ll help our economy, and most of all it’ll help our children.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams helped lead Sunday's march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen By Li Yakira Cohen

Fewer than 10 percent of children nationwide eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables and fewer than 40 percent of American children eat the recommended amount for fruits, according to the CDC. In New York State, there are no early care and education licensing regulations aligned with the national standards for serving fruits or vegetables.

Representatives of the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance and other advocates at Sunday's march called on local officials to implement four changes to kindergarten through fifth-grade schools: More freshly prepared meals, culinary and nutritional education, gardens at every school to teach kids how to cultivate food, and longer times for lunch so students have time to properly eat their meals.

For Downtown Brooklyn resident Shanna Hayes, implementing such measures is essential for her 8-year-old son, who has autism. Since she started focusing on healthier meals and lifestyle choices at home about three weeks ago, she said she has already seen her son’s focus improve and his hyperactivity lessen. Hayes said that even though some may resist paying for an increase in school lunch programs, the costs will manifest down the road eventually. Without healthier lunch options, she said, parents will end up paying for chronic health issues, such as diabetes, that their children develop in the future.

“They say that no children are left behind, but our children are being left behind every day when they have to eat something that’s not healthy for them,” she said. “Our children are being left behind every day when they have to spend more time at the doctor than they are at school because they’re sick.”

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