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Can School Cafeterias Save Our Nation's Health?

As Americans’ health tanks due to the effects of obesity, there is a lifeboat. And NUSD's Miguel Villareal is paddling like crazy.

As the Titanic sank, the cry went up “SAVE THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN first!”

Now as Americans’ health tanks due to the effects of obesity there is a lifeboat that can help everyone and it is in our public schools.

The book and HBO 4-part documentary series, Weight of the Nation, which aired last week, announced that what we are eating is making us sick, putting us on medications, sending us to hospitals and shortening our lives. If this is the bad news it is doubly dismal for our children who are following our food choices. Their lives are projected to be 10 years shorter than ours due medical conditions associated with being overweight. We need to find a solution that can assist them and us on a daily basis where these choices live.

The National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as collaborators with HBO, see the school lunch programs as key in the rescue of the next generation. At school, kids spend 50 percent of their day and eat more than 50 percent of their weekday calories. Part 3 of this 4-part series focuses on public school lunch programs, as a place to raise the standards.  

Across the country, the school system nutritional directors have been underutilized and overlooked. Operating strictly as budget-driven administrators providing schools with cheap food, this under-the-radar position has hardly been one a community would think of turning to for help. Cafeteria food has hidden in undesirable obscurity … until now.

Indeed, the U.S. health boat may be sinking but not for the kids in the . They are lucky … no, maybe considering the statistics they are blessed with having Miguel Villarreal as the Food and Nutritional Service Director. He has reduced the daily sugar from the school foods by 400 pounds. He has worked to make policy collaborating with community allies and organizations that protects our kids from commercialism such as the mobile junk food truck ordinance.

The City of Novato passed the ordinance last December keeping the junk food venders 1,500 feet from all schools. Six years ago Miguel eliminated red meat from the school menu, simply cutting out the health risks of meat contaminated with mad cow disease and now "pink slime." And across the country, where schools are serving french fries daily as a vegetable, our kids get fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables every day when they get their breakfast or lunch at school.

It takes more than a cafeteria, it takes leadership. Novato’s District PTA knows this and recently recognized the heroic work that Miguel Villarreal is doing in the district with A Very Special Person Award.

What will Miguel’s leadership bring Novato this year? Can he build a lifeboat big enough for the grown-ups? Our joints and feet ache, our back gives out, we miss days of work and whether it is heartburn or sleep apnea there is no sleeping either. And each year just seems to add another 5 -10 pounds. Can the schools' director of nutritional service serve the community healthy food education programs so we change the direction of our health? Us big kids need help, too … ‘cuz we aren’t little any more.

To watch Weight of the Nation, go to HBO: Weight of the Nation

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Novato Native May 28, 2012 at 05:29 PM
We are lucky to have Miguel as a member of our district and I hope leadership recognizes this and keeps him onboard for as long as possible. Thank you Miguel for all that you do!

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