Message from the Director

The importance of nutrition in schools

Dr. Thornburg

Spring 2017

When I was in grade school way back in the previous century, hot lunches prepared by school cooks were nearly inedible. Most of the ingredients were said to be army surplus. The spinach was overcooked and slimy and had a yellowish tint. Thus, I used my lunch money to rent my friend's bicycle during lunch hour rather than eat. However, on days when my mother fixed my sack lunch, I had a good delicious meal.

Decades later, I visited my son's school on parent's day. My wife and I ate lunch with our son in the cafeteria. To my surprise, the quality of the lunches had not improved. The creamed corn was scorched with a foul odor;the remaining items were poor substitutes for real food. Most people, parents and children alike, just ate the French fries dipped in ketchup.

Years later, as people became aware of the childhood obesity epidemic angel groups (my term for them) began a movement to rid the schools of the vending machines that had been installed following donations from soft drink companies. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act introduced updated school nutrition standards for the first time since the 1940s. All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program were required to reduce sodium, saturated and trans fats, increase fruits, vegetables and whole grains and decrease meat portions in school meals. In 2014, the Oregon Department of Education released updated guidance–Oregon Smart Snacks–to align state policy with the USDA's new rules. These improvements along with Farm to School and School Garden programs have improved the opportunities for Oregon's children to eat a healthy diet at school. In some schools many or most of the students get the majority of their daily calories and nutrients from a school meal program, so quality food offerings are important.

We have toured schools that have embraced the importance of nutrition and have gone above and beyond federal and state requirements to introduce innovative programs for their students. One such school, Shasta Elementary in Klamath Falls, introduced a policy that all snacks brought from home must come from a plant, no packaged or processed food products allowed. They also rearranged their cafeteria to require all students to go through the fruit and vegetable bar before they get a hot entrée. Why do we at the Moore Institute care? Between the early 1970s and 2006 the prevalence of obesity among 8-19 year olds increased from about 4 percent to 17 percent (CDC data). The causes of childhood obesity are multifaceted and include loss of opportunities to exercise, excessive screen time and poor nutrition. Childhood obesity was the primary topic of this year's annual meeting of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine). The Moore Institute was invited to participate in the discussion. One of the causes of obesity is nutrient poor meals combined with sugary drinks in schools. Children who are obese will not only be at high risk for diabetes and heart disease as adults, but they will pass risk to their future children.

The next big step for the Moore Institute is to offer nutrition education to children across all age groups. The Moore Institute promotes this audacious idea under the leadership of Susan Bagby, M.D., a profile of her work with the Moore Institute Outreach and Education Committee is included in this newsletter. I offer high praise to people across the state of Oregon who have the courage to battle against the powerful forces of industry that target children for consuming non-nutritious foods. School lunches are healthier than they were once but we have a long way to go in changing the food culture for children.


Kent L. Thornburg, Ph.D.
Director, OHSU Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness