WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2011 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined First Lady Michelle Obama to honor schools taking part in USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge. The First Lady hosted a reception on the South Lawn to honor the 1,273 schools that met her goal to double the number of participants in the Challenge in a year. The Challenge recognizes schools that create healthier school environments by providing exceptional nutrition education, nutritious food and beverage choices, physical education and opportunities for physical activity.
"Educators see firsthand the impact that childhood obesity has on our children's lives -not just on their physical and emotional health, but on their academic success as well. That's why our nation's educators have been leaders in this movement to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in America," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "Today, we're not just thanking these educators, but encouraging them to continue that leadership, to reach out and help other schools by sharing good ideas and best practices, and encouraging and inspiring each other. The HealthierUS Schools Competition is a competition every school in America can win. And when our schools win, our kids win and our country wins."
"Achieving the HealthierUS School Challenge recognition demonstrates a school's deep commitment to create and maintain a healthy school environment," Vilsack said. "The schools we are recognizing today have already made great progress toward meeting the school meals improvements set forth in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act - and can serve as models for others seeking to make improvements. By providing access to nutritious foods and promoting physical activity in our schools, we can reinforce the healthy habits that many parents are already teaching at home and help our children reach their full potential."
The HealthierUS School Challenge is a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. In February 2010, USDA and the First Lady called on stakeholders to double the number of Challenge schools - a goal reached in June 2011 - and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that.
The Challenge schools honored at the White House voluntarily agreed to provide healthy meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, and fat-free or low fat milk. Challenge schools also have to agree to provide nutrition education and to provide opportunities for physical activity. Schools participating in the Challenge are recognized with Gold Award of Distinction, Gold, Silver, or Bronze-level certification.
Improving child nutrition is also the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama in December 2010. The legislation reauthorized the National School Lunch Program and USDA's other child nutrition programs. The Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to school meals and increase access to these critical programs.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs, which touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger.