Maryland Legislative Session: Sensible Sugar in Schools

The following is testimony given by Rachel Hinton at the Maryland House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee Public Hearing on February 18th, 2016, in support of the Sensible Sugar in Schools Act (House Bill 528), a bill that require schools to put a plan in place to reduce added sugar in school meals. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

These are wrappers from snacks served at school to the author’s daughter.

Thank you for hearing my testimony today.

My four-year-old and six-year-old children attend a public school in Prince George’s County, Robert Goddard Montessori, where I am Vice President of the PTSA. In addition to serving breakfast and lunch, this school provides a daily snack in the classroom to the preschool and kindergarten students who are between three and six years old.

Like all families, my husband and I are focused on raising healthy kids. We are part of a growing group who are concerned about how food choices affect lifetime health. So it has been very upsetting to have sugary and heavily processed foods like Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Rice Krispy Treats served to my children on a regular basis as part of their school day.

The World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and the USDA are all recommending dramatic reductions in sugar consumption. The latest USDA guidelines for all Americans state that added sugars should be no more than 10% of total calories. The American Heart Association says young children should consume no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day. These recommendations are impossible to implement when foods served in school can be 35% sugar. A typical serving of chocolate milk has 13 grams, or 3 teaspoons, of added sugar in a single 8 oz. serving.

I have been in touch by email with the Prince Georges County Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition Services. They have shared with me that they are required to serve a fresh fruit or vegetable two times a week in the snack program and that the packaged, branded snacks, such as the Kellogg’s products, have been reformulated to contain no more than 35% sugar by weight. I have asked them what barriers exist to serving a fresh fruit or vegetable, or other more wholesome food, every day, instead of just 2 times a week, and never serving packaged “junk” foods. The only answer I have been given is that they are working within the existing requirements. Although I had been hopeful that advocating directly to Food and Nutrition Services at the county level would lead to change, it now appears that the best way to change the practices in my county is to change the requirements that are imposed by the state of Maryland, as the counties only seem to make changes when they are required to by a higher authority.

We have an opportunity in the schools to shape young children’s food habits as early as three years of age. Should we teach them to reach for a packaged food containing large amounts of added sugar, as well as food colorings and unpronounceable ingredients, for a snack? Lets move instead to a pattern of only serving more healthy foods in our schools.

The bill before you today is an important step towards creating a culture and practice of healthy eating, and allowing Maryland schools to be leaders in promoting lifelong health. I urge you to support the Sensible Sugar in Schools Act, House Bill 528.

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