The introduction of Greek yogurt in the Meridian School District, and school districts in three other states, may not prevent the health-related crisis surrounding childhood obesity and diabetes in the United States within the next two decades, but its a move in the right direction.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, working with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., convinced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make Greek yogurt a nonmandatory addition to the departments school nutrition program for the coming school year. This week, Crapo joined Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark and others at Pioneer Elementary School to announce that high-protein Chobani Greek Yogurt will be brought into Meridian schools as part of a national pilot project. If the project is successful, the USDA could expand the offering to all states.
For Idaho, thats a winner on several fronts. Its a big boost for Twin Falls company Chobani, which has the worlds largest Greek yogurt production facility, and Idahos dairy industry. Whats more important is that it offers a healthier meal choice for kids which is sorely needed.
SeAnne Safaii, president of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietics, and an assistant professor at the University of Idaho, supports the program.
I am a big advocate of Greek yogurt because of its high protein content and probiotics, she said. Many students, especially young girls, dont like the school meals because they perceive them as high in fat. The yogurt parfaits with fruit are a healthy way to get a meal in them. I would have been one of those yogurt parfait girls in high school.
Safaii is aware of the urgency to provide better food options in schools. She says that nearly 26 million people in America have diabetes, and the incidence rate is growing most rapidly in children and young adults. The cost for treating the disease in 2012 was about $245 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Safaii is also well aware of the dire predictions concerning obesity. By 2030, all states are projected to have obesity rates above 44 percent, and some states will be above 60 percent. Idaho, which is at roughly 25 percent, is projected to be at 50 percent by the end of the next decade.
If projections hold true, about half of the United States will be 30 pounds or more overweight by 2030. That means diabetes and heart disease will be on the rise and health care costs will go through the roof.
One pilot project to bring Chobani Greek Yogurt into the schools isnt going to derail the health crisis thats coming. The nation, quite simply, needs to declare war on obesity. But its good to see Crapo, two top school officials and industry leaders use their influence to promote healthy food options in the schools.
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