Proposed Law Would Create New Jobs and Improve School Lunches

Create JobsOregon is considering an interesting bill that some researchers say would help school kids eat healthier and create hundreds of new farm-industry jobs. It involves incentives for serving locally produced food in schools, and getting kids involved gardening and enhanced nutrition education - and it wouldn't be a burden on taxpayers.

HB 2800 would reimburse schools - equivalent to 15 cents per lunch and seven cents per breakfast - for purchasing Oregon food products. The bill would also provide competitive education grants to schools in order to support teaching gardens and cross-curricular nutrition education, which could help kids learn about local food production and increase their preference for fruits and vegetables. The funding for the program would come from the Economic Development Fund, which is a portion of Oregon's Lottery Fund.

This is not some wishful, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had unlimited funding?" idea. A study released by Upstream Public Health in Portland shows that it could actually work. Researchers received a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts (highly respected, private organizations) to conduct a health impact assessment on the Farm to School and School Garden legislation, HB 2800, and the results looked positive.

The researchers concluded that HB 2800, if enacted as introduced, would:

  • Create at least 800 new agricultural jobs over the next five to 10 years in both urban and rural areas of the state. Research shows that employment improves health because it helps people afford safe places to live, buy adequate amounts of food, pay for health insurance and cover health care costs.
  • Have the potential to increase students' satisfaction with school meal offerings, which research shows can increase student participation in the federal school meals program. This program provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free breakfasts and lunches to children each school day. In 2009, 14 percent of households in the state, nearly 500,000 people, including working families, had to cut back on food or even regularly skip meals because of economic hardships. The legislation could mean more children in these families would get nutritious meals at school. Hunger can affect health by causing chronic illness and developmental delays.
  • Have the potential for a small to moderate, long-term impact on childhood obesity. This would result from increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and increased physical activity as more children care for school-based gardens.

"We found that this bill would offer the state of Oregon an economic benefit and, at the same time, provide a number of important health benefits - for example, shaping children's preferences for healthy food," says Tia Henderson, Ph.D., research coordinator at Upstream Public Health and co-author of the report.

Now it's up to the state legislators to do their own research, and pass or reject the bill. The legislation, if enacted, could well set a trend for other states.

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