|Statement by Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, on the “D.C. Healthy Schools Act”|
I wish to congratulate the Council of the District of Columbia for its approval of the new D.C. Healthy Schools Act, a groundbreaking law that sets an example for cities, states, and countries throughout the Americas.
This commendable legislation aims to improve the nutritional quality of foods in D.C. schools and to cultivate healthy habits among students during the important years of childhood and adolescence. Among its key provisions are limits on fat and salt in foods served in schools, incentives to serve students more fruits and vegetables and locally produced foods, a ban on marketing of junk foods in schools, and requirements that more school time be spent on physical activity and education about healthy eating and lifestyles.
This legislation reflects the growing determination to battle the epidemics of overweight, obesity, and nutrition-related chronic diseases on the part of U.S. parents, educators, and public health advocates, including First Lady Michelle Obama. Schools are a key battleground in the fight to change unhealthy habits by making the right choice the easy choice.
In congratulating the D.C. City Council—and Councilmember Mary Cheh, who proposed the legislation—I also encourage Council members to exercise further leadership by giving positive consideration to the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. This modest tax would provide the necessary funds to implement the Healthy Schools Act and support other D.C. health initiatives, while providing an incentive for both adults and children to reduce their consumption of nutrient-poor, calorie-rich drinks. Studies show that consumption of these drinks is associated with increased body weight, poor nutrition, and displacement of healthier beverages such as water and milk. Moreover, reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has been shown to improve health.
The United States is not alone in having rising rates of overweight, obesity, and nutrition-related chronic diseases. Countries throughout the Americas face these problems. I hope the example set by Washington, D.C., will be followed by citizens and their governments throughout our hemisphere.
Washington, DC, 13 May 2010