SPECIAL PROJECT: FOCUS ON FIBER
CLOSING THE FIBER GAP IN SCHOOL MEALS
Almost all American children fail to consume the minimum recommended amount of fiber and our health is suffering as a result. Skyrocketing rates of preventable chronic illnesses like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and high cholesterol are affecting people younger than ever before.
That's why Balanced launched our Focus on Fiber campaign to spread awareness and inspire action leading to stronger nutrition policies in our schools and communities.
The impact of fiber on gut microbiota composition, as well as the fermentation byproducts, are thought to play a key role in dietary fiber’s numerous health benefits and protections against disease.
Fiber inadequacy may be linked with allergic and autoimmune disorders, constipation and bowel diseases, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain cancers.
Positive health outcomes associated with dietary fiber include favorable cardiometabolic effects and higher micronutrient intakes.
Grains are the number one source of dietary fiber in school meals and account for over half of all fiber on the lunch tray.
Grains in school meals are often ultra-processed and contain more added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. Pastries alone accounted for 17% of total fiber, or roughly one-third of the fiber attributed to grains!
Making space for fiber-dense foods requires, to some degree, a reduction in the reliance on foods and beverages containing little to no fiber.
Highest impact interventions should be focused on diversifying proteins and increasing naturally occurring plant-based fiber.
The federal school meals programs have an important role to play in ensuring millions of students have access and opportunity to consume adequate dietary fiber. Nearly all school-aged children are not meeting dietary fiber recommendations. Many children are eating two out of three meals at school each day, with an average of 22.6 million children eating school lunch and 12.4 million children consuming breakfast daily in Fiscal Year 2020. Thus, potential policy interventions could significantly impact the health of children across the U.S.
Two main policy approaches within the context of the USDA School Nutrition Programs stand out to address the apparent gap between recommended and actual fiber intakes. Policy Alternative 1 would impose a minimum daily and weekly dietary fiber requirement, while Policy Alternative 2 would strengthen existing meal pattern requirements for whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables to improve dietary fiber offerings in school meals.