The scene looks inviting and wholesome. Under a clear sunny sky, acres of lush green vines stretch off into the distance, their branches weighed down with plump, juicy…pizza slices?
Welcome to the Pizza Farm, the absurdist setting for a new video produced by the comedy production company Funny or Die in partnership with the American Heart Association. Featuring Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman as a down-to-earth farmer, the satirical video leads viewers on a tour of the place where “healthy” snacks, like fish fingers and taquitos, are grown for kids to enjoy. Located on the webpage of the American Heart Association News, the short video has been making the rounds on the Internet since its release on July 14th, using humor to draw attention to a serious issue currently under discussion in Congress: the possible reauthorization of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Championed by the American Heart Association, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was a major step forward for children’s nutrition when it was first passed. In recent years, scientists and nutritional experts have made it clear that, like their adult counterparts, American children need to eat a healthier diet, and reduce their intake of salt, fat, and sugar. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act aimed to address this issue by setting higher nutritional standards for a number of USDA child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, which provides meals and snacks to roughly 31 million students at more than 100,000 schools and day care facilities. New regulations for these meals included an increased amount of whole grains, a 10% cap on the proportion of calories from saturated fats, and daily availability of fruits and vegetables.
However, despite the clear health benefits of replacing tater tots and mozzarella sticks with grape tomatoes and baked sweet potato fries, it wasn’t long before opposition to the Act set in. Some schools had difficulty coping with the increased costs associated with the new, healthier food options. Others reported that food waste had dramatically increased as kids balked at eating fresh vegetables and whole-grain breads. Still others saw their enrollment numbers for lunch programs fall. Special-interest groups began pushing for changes to the Act, and some were successful. The Pizza Farm video, with its rhapsodic descriptions of “acres of pizza kissed by the sun,” may seem laughably farfetched, but less than a year after the Act was introduced, Congress declared that because of its tomato sauce, pizza could be counted as a serving of vegetables.
While there was certainly no lack of negative feedback about the new nutritional requirements, neither was there a shortage of positive reports. A number of surveys revealed that, after a certain adjustment period, many kids actually enjoyed the more nutrition-rich lunch options. A Harvard study showed that the new standards had led to kids eating 23% more fruit and 16% more vegetables at lunch than they did before the Act was passed. Moreover, in spite of some implementation challenges, according to the USDA, the vast majority of schools were able to meet the new nutritional standards.
With the current Act set to expire at the end of September, the topic of school lunches is on the front burner once again. Parody videos like the Pizza Farm sketch are just one of the tactics organizations like the American Heart Association are using to highlight the importance of reauthorizing the bill.
But for all the focus on this particular Act, it’s vital to remember that the issue of children’s nutrition and health is much more than just a political one. Whether or not we believe that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the best method, there can be little doubt that a drastic change is necessary in our children’s diets if they are to grow up into healthy adults. Currently, one in three children and youth in the US are obese or overweight, almost triple the rate of 50 years ago. Due mainly to consumption levels of processed foods, the daily sodium intake of kids between the ages of eight and 18 is more than double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association. This is worrisome because high salt intake is directly linked to increased blood pressure, which in turn is one of the principal risk factors for the development of heart disease. If current trends continue, one third of all Americans born in 2000 are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. Without a major change, today’s children could become the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.
To learn more about the American Heart Association’s efforts to have the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act reauthorized by Congress, please visit the AHA website.